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08/20/2013

Mesa Verde Spared from Drilling...for Now

Mesa Verde_NPSMesa Verde, Courtesy National Park Service

Located in southwest Colorado lies 80 square miles of some of the best preserved cliff dwellings in the world. This region, inhabited by the Ancestral Puebloan people between 600 and 1300 A.D. is now Mesa Verde National Park. The Park contains over 600 dwellings as well as thousands of other archeological sites. First created in 1906, Mesa Verde remains the only unit in the National Park Service to be set aside as a cultural park “to preserve the works of man.” Its significance has been internationally recognized and the area is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site. Despite its remoteness, more than half a million people make the journey every year to see the dwellings and bring much needed tourism to the local economy.

In February of this year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) offered 12 oil and gas leases covering some 12,000 acres just east of the Park. The Sierra Club, conservation partners, and the Park Service protested the sale, noting the very real possibility that expanding dirty fuels extraction would severely harm the air quality and natural resources of the Park. The BLM heard the outcry and the agency deferred those parcels with the intention of leasing a majority of them later this year.

Last Friday, however, in a victory for Park advocates and conservationists across the region, the BLM announced that it wouldn’t be offering the lease sales this year. That decision gives temporary relief to an area that has already seen its fair share of oil and gas drilling. In fact, the lease sale earlier this year from which these 12 parcels were deferred still sold 107 parcels covering more than 60,000 acres.

Even amidst the wave of new drilling, some places remain just too special to drill. The leasing threatening a priceless cultural resource and an economic driver such as Mesa Verde demonstrates that more emphasis needs to be put on preservation to restore balance to how BLM manages our public lands. As they agency finishes its ongoing analysis for the parcels it should consider the reasons behind the vast public opposition to drilling near the park.

Though Mesa Verde is safe for now, the fight is far from over and the sale could come up at any point next year during one of four planned lease sales in Colorado. Those in Colorado and across the country who care about Mesa Verde and our public lands across the West where drilling has run rampant in recent years must continue to push back against the BLM and industry. Our public lands belong to everyone. And we won’t rest until we take them back from the dirty grip of the oil and gas industry.

-- Matthew Kirby, Sierra Club lands team

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