Nine Mile pact

Agreement can ensure protection
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"Treat the Earth well: It was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

-- Ancient Indian proverb

It is our responsibility to protect the delicate and beautiful things of the Earth, including, along with nature's wonders, the treasures we've inherited from the people who lived thousands of years ago in the land we now call Utah. We would be cheating our children and grandchildren if we were to allow those things to be ruined in our rush to take fossil fuels from the ground.

An agreement to be signed today at Utah's Capitol is the first step toward protecting the longest art gallery and one of the finest collections of ancient Indian rock art in the world, the petroglyphs and pictographs of Nine Mile Canyon. It is the result of the Nine Mile Coalition and other groups struggling for nearly two decades to protect the sites.

But it should be considered only that: a first step. A continuing effort among the pact's signers -- Bill Barrett Corp., conservation groups, historic preservationists, Native American tribes, the state and eastern Utah counties -- will be necessary to ensure this priceless treasure is protected.

Bill Barrett Corp. wants to add 800 new natural gas wells to the 100 it has operating on the Tavaputs Plateau near Nine Mile Canyon. The plan would result in more than a thousand heavy truck trips each day along the narrow dirt road that winds past at least 10,000 ancient archaeological sites. The dust kicked up is known to ruin the ancient rock art.

This agreement finally recognizes the potential danger. It requires Barrett to pay for three types of studies to pinpoint and record all the sites that are at risk. The Bureau of Land Management, which for years under former President George W. Bush resisted any input from concerned groups, will consult with tribal nations about the sites' religious and cultural significance.

The deal says dust must be controlled and suppressed. If it is not, Bill Barrett Corp. could lose its permits to drill.

And, finally, the BLM will work with the Nine Mile Coalition, archaeologists, the College of Eastern Utah's Prehistoric Museum and the state on a long-range stewardship plan to monitor the efforts to preserve all the ancient cultural sites in the West Tavaputs region.

Utah's Nine Mile Canyon is a unique, 40-mile treasure trove of ancient stone art, well worth the work and expense of protecting it. We must be diligent in its preservation -- for our children and grandchildren.