This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Years ago, during my summer as a seasonal ranger at Zion National Park, I divided my time between the Zion Canyon Road and what was then called the Kolob Reservoir Road. I worked along the Zion Canyon Road as a fee collector, night watchman, camp rule enforcer. The Kolob Reservoir Road was my access to adventure during my time off.
I recall one night camped on a ledge in Left Fork, a deep and complicated canyon and one of the wildest places I've ever been. We'd swum long cold pools, rappelled down waterfalls and climbed gigantic debris piles left by recent flash floods. We couldn't believe that less than a mile away a paved road led to beer and tacos in the town of Virgin. Based on our surroundings and the intensity of our experience, we could have been lost somewhere in the Amazon Jungle or looking for a new route across the wild heart of the Congo.
Today, the Kolob Reservoir Road is called the Kolob Terrace Road. Many of the canyons it accesses have now been extensively mapped, GPS'd, and step-by-step hike descriptions of them can be found in books and online. The Subway, at the bottom of Left Fork, has become the most popular hike in Zion, and getting a permit now requires winning a lottery. Regardless, this shadowy, primitive side of Zion remains one of America's wildest places.
This could change. The BLM has included three parcels within the view shed of Zion National Park for lease at their oil and gas auction in June. Two of these straddle the Kolob Terrace Road. This sale is being opposed by an environmental community, concerned about the threats of carbon development on biodiversity, wilderness and air and water quality, and by local officials worried about how 4 million visitors to Zion will feel when they see, hear and smell oil wells if they choose to explore this wild and remote section of the park. Those of us concerned about how climate disruption is degrading our future are also opposed to this lease sale, realizing that carbon must be kept "in the ground" to avoid its catastrophic impacts on our climate.
The BLM's Environmental Assessment (EA) cites their legal obligation to "make mineral resources available" and to conduct lease sales on a quarterly basis. The federal laws governing leasing were written for times vastly different from those we're currently living in. They do not reflect the increasing need our population feels to experience and explore these wild and naturally beautiful landscapes, or the billions of dollars we spend on outdoor recreation. Nor do these laws acknowledge the damage done by burning fossil fuels.
The EA goes into depth in its analysis of how development of these leases will impact air quality, wildlife, endangered species and water resources. The EA sites the contribution of oil and gas development to global warming, estimating that burning the oil from a well on one of these leased parcels will emit 27,794 metric tons of C02 into the atmosphere. A list of problems associated with our warming climate is included in the EA, such as "intense heat waves, more severe wildfires, degraded air quality, increased drought, greater sea-level rise, more intense storms, harm to wildlife and ecosystems."
Will we continue to see this type of information in public documents under the Trump administration? I worry. In addition to loading his cabinet with anti-environment/pro-carbon billionaires, our new president has demonstrated his commitment to fossil fuels, which rob us of a livable future. And shame on our Utah politicians for supporting Trump's dangerous agenda.
While acknowledging that carbon development impacts the Outdoor Recreation and Tourism Industries, the EA notes that "accurate valuation is not currently possible."
In the same way that some private sector economists have placed the cost to the future of burning a barrel of oil at $300, we will one day know the financial impact of oil wells on our outdoor experience and, I believe, our sanity.
The BLM should stop leasing public lands for the carbon in this era of climate change. Fossil fuels must remain in the ground. The true value of Utah's wild lands is not economic but spiritual, especially in Zion National Park.
Meanwhile the period to express your opposition to these leases ends Feb. 10. Send your comments to Bureau of Land Management's St. George Field Office to the attention of Dave Corry.
Brooke Williams and his wife, Terry Tempest Williams, were recently denied leases they purchased which were offered in the auction held last year. They are appealing this decision.