Spokespeople from the Utah branches of both the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and Trout Unlimited are raising concerns about the proposed lease of a portion of the Book Cliffs, a landscape filled with a variety of wildlife and valued by many hunters and anglers, to a petroleum company. The land in question is a road-less section of the cliffs packed with mule deer, pronghorn, bison, and even limited amounts of bighorn sheep.
According to Fox 13, sportsmen are angered by what some have called a “secret deal” between the School Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) and the development company Anadarko. The SITLA board decided last week to award a five-year lease to Anadarko for oil and gas development across 80,000 acres of the Book Cliffs.
“We had absolutely no idea, and really the only time we found out about it is after the vote had already occurred,” said Casey Snider, coordinator of the Utah chapter of Trout Unlimited. “We got word from SITLA that it had been leased, and that’s just the way it was.”
Sportsmen say they were not aware that the road-less section of the deal, nearly 20,000 acres, would be up for grabs. The land contains some of the best fishing and hunting opportunities in the state, often described as a hunting mecca. Snider told Deseret News that the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources treats the area as a limited-entry hunt for big game. Hunters often spend years on a waiting list before getting a chance to hunt the land.
“It can take decades to get a permit,” Snider said, “the hunting is of such value.”
However, the deal will also provide SITLA as much as six million dollars from one well alone. With many profitable drilling locations, the state’s educational system may receive millions in funds directly to local school districts.
“We are sensitive to the fact that the paradigm for the Book Cliffs has been one of pristine hunting, but we feel we can work together with all interested parties to minimize impacts,” said Kim Christy, deputy director of SITLA.
Utah Governor Gary Herbert recently commented on the situation, calling SITLA’s decision “flawed.” Snider applauds the governor’s reaction but the lease still remains under review. Sportsmen are hoping that Governor Herbert will step in to intervene, or a likewise change in the deal between SITLA and Anadarko occurs. The petroleum company has stated it is surprised by the negative reaction to the land lease, but leaves no hint as to whether it will renegotiate the terms of the lease.