When the BLM announced recently that it intended to lease 80,000 acres of public lands for oil and gas development in and around Utah's renowned San Rafael Swell -- including spectacular areas that have been proposed for wilderness designation -- it touched off a raw nerve with Utahns.
To help give voice to this righteous sense of outrage, the Sierra Club and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) teamed up to organize a mid-September rally in front of the BLM's Utah offices in downtown Salt Lake City, knowing that drilling activity could commence shortly after the scheduled lease sale in November.
"When the BLM announced they were planning to lease nearly 80,000 acres in the San Rafael Swell for oil and gas, my gut told me that many Utahns are not going to like this," said Tim Wagner, below, a Salt Lake City-based organizer with the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign. "It's obvious that the Utah BLM is still operating under the Bush-era protocol of 'drill first, ask later.' We intend to change that."
The Salt Lake Tribune reported that "at least 200 protesters" gathered to hear a host of speakers talk about the dangers of drilling the Swell. Demonstrators argued that the new leases could not only undermine what makes the area special, but also do irreparable harm to Utah's outdoor industry, which currently generates an estimated $12 billion and employs more than 122,000 people, roughly 9.5 percent of all employment in the state.
Above, Goblin Valley; below, San Rafael Reef -- both part of the San Rafael Swell.