Environmentalists Urge More Protection for Utah Lands

WASHINGTON, Oct. 9 (UPI) — Environmentalists say the Interior Department should add further protections to tracts of land in Utah that were pulled from oil-and-gas leasing this week.

The department Thursday deferred the leasing of 52 of the parcels and withdrew eight from consideration altogether after an in-depth report on the sale of 77 Utah leases during the final month of the Bush administration.

The parcels were in the vicinity of national parks and other scenic “red rock” areas as well as in important wildlife habitat and areas the agency determined were not very promising sources of oil and natural gas.

The environmental community said the report confirmed that the leases were offered for political purposes and had given the Interior Department and the Bureau of Land Management a new opportunity to provide additional protection for scenic federal lands.

“We are heartened so see the Department of Interior reclaiming its authority and responsibility to manage these lands for all Americans,” Stephen Bloch of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance said in a written statement. “We hope (Interior Secretary Ken Salazar) will take this opportunity to protect the irreplaceable wilderness and cultural values of these places, which overshadow their potential contribution to our nation’s need for fossil fuels.”

Copyright 2009 by United Press International

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