Dramatic Utah Wilderness Protected

     In an unusual alliance of conservation organizations, oil and gas interests, and local governments, Utah’s dramatic Desolation Canyon has been saved from massive natural gas exploration.   

     One of the most remote and rugged stretches of riverland  in the American West, eastern Utah’s Desolation Canyon offers breathtaking views of red rock cliffs and multicolored rock spires.  This canyon, carved by the Green River, is a favorite of rafters and hikers.  And the largest existing collection of Native American rock art can be found along one of Desolation Canyon’s tributary canyons.

     Back in 1969, Desolation Canyon was designated a National Historic Landmark.  Even so, under the Bush administration, Desolation Canyon was one of many prized Utah public lands that were rushed to the oil and gas leasing block.  Environmental reviews were limited or bypassed altogether for many of these lands, including Desolation Canyon.  Consequently, the Denver-based Bill Barrett Corporation (BBC) obtained the rights to drill for natural gas on the western side of Desolation Canyon.  BBC planned to install 225 surface drill pads in the area, which would have  caused severe fragmentation of wildlife habitat, and would have resulted in heavy traffic and pollution in the area.

     But thanks to the recent historic agreement, hammered out after years of negotiation, BBC has agreed to develop only five locations in this wilderness land.  And all five sites will be underground, out of sght.  None of the five will be near the proposed Wilderness sections of the canyon, nor will any be near the canyon’s Native American archeological sites.    Measures will also be taken to protect the area’s air quality.   

     “We were able to convince the Bill Barrett Corporation to walk away from the vast majority of their leases and to agree to specific precautions in others so that these lands can be protected as designated wilderness someday,” says Laura Bailey of the Wilderness Society, one of the conservation groups that worked to forge the historic agreement.  “Without this agreement,” she says, “we would be continuing to fight drilling on every acre of this spectacular landscape rich with culture.”

     Conservationists are hopeful that Desolation Canyon will someday be designated Wilderness by Congress.  The recent agreement is a critical step toward that goal.  If the area were to be inundated with drills and industrial equipment, then it would not qualify for permanent Wilderness protections.

     Not only is the recent agreement a great victory for all who care about Utah’s rugged southwest canyons, but it is also a new and rare example of conservation groups, oil and gas interests, and local governments working together to balance energy development with conservation needs on public lands, according to the Wilderness Society.–April Moore




Desolation Canyon, Utah

Desolation Canyon, Utah

3 Responses to “Dramatic Utah Wilderness Protected”

  1. Jim Z. Says:

    This is great news. An area well worth protecting.

  2. Judy Muller Says:

    Thank you, April. I am adding this to my list of spectacular places in Utah that I would like to explore. I will have to see how far from Albuquerque it is.

  3. Jarrod Grodski Says:

    I completely agree with your take on this topic and look forward to additional posts and comments. Thanks!

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