We reported last month that the BLM had proposed making leases available to energy companies in the Moab area, some in the ground beneath the famed Slickrock trail. The plan was to sell leases in the Sand Flats Recreation Area that would total roughly 5,000 acres, more than half the recreation area’s size.
The reversal came after mountains of opposition to the news, including from representatives of the Utah government, including Governor Gary Herbert.
“The governor appreciates the unique beauty of the Slickrock area and wants to ensure that nothing is done that would be detrimental to the visitor experience or local water quality,” said a spokesman for Herbert.
Moab’s water supply could potentially have been threatened by any mining or drilling in the area, as the parcels were near the sole aquifer the town has for drinking water.
The economic benefits of the recreation area played a part in the decision. Hundreds of thousands of people spend time in the San Flats area, especially mountain bikers on the Slickrock trail, but also hikers, trail runners, and campers. Grand County, of which Moab is the county seat, says more than $7 million in local spending is generated by visitors to the Sand Flats area each year.
“Recreation access is a priority of ours—as well as responsible energy development—and both provide important economic benefits to Utah,” BLM acting Canyon Country District Manager Brian Quigley said.
The mayor of Moab, Emily Niehaus, applauded the BLM’s decision, but was also enthusiastic that public outcry was heard by the federal agency.
“Let’s celebrate this decision, because they are listening,” Niehaus said. “The state of Utah is doing a good job of balancing the economic implications of our public lands. This move says to me we have a partner in the governor’s office. We have a partner in the BLM.”