The Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands (SITLA) Board drew fire from sportsmen this past week after secretly leasing a large portion of the Book Cliffs, a prized hunting and fishing area, to oil and gas giant, Anadarko.
The move was seen as a stab in the back to sportsmen and the Utah Congressional delegation who had been working on a deal that would protect areas like the Book Cliffs while releasing other areas more suitable for development. SITLA was even present on a recent tour of the area where all parties left under the impression that protection was the best solution.
The Book Cliffs remains important to sportsmen as it boasts some of the highest-quality big game habitat in the West along with Willow Creek, a Blue-Ribbon trout stream. Every year, some of Utah’s biggest mule deer bucks and bull elk come from this remote and wild country. Many hunters wait years, if not decades, for a chance to hunt there--and not just for a chance at a trophy, but for the uniqueness of the experience. Likewise, anglers journey from afar to fish the waters of Willow Creek.
In short, the decision to lease came across as more than just business.
With the announcement came a backlash from sportsmen, media and politicians. Gov. Gary Herbert requested that SITLA reconsider their decision - a request SITLA took “under advisement.”
“SITLA’s decision to lease the entire Book Cliffs block could be at the expense of a more vital and potentially more valuable land management strategy,” Herbert said. “I expect SITLA to honor its fiduciary responsibility to Utah’s school children. However, I call on SITLA to live up to that obligation and find the best, long-term agreement that will return the greatest possible revenue to the school trust. I am confident a better process will result in a better outcome that serves all concerned. I urge SITLA to reconsider this critical decision and not execute a contract on these terms.”
The group even got a big fat frownie face from City Weekly’s “Hits and Misses.”
“What message does this send during sensitive talks on conservation and land exchanges? The priority is not wildlife or pristine panoramas that cannot be restored. It’s money.”
In a news release put out by Trout Unlimited, Casey Snider, TU Utah Coordinator said it was important to be clear that sportsmen’s issue was not with Anadarko.
“Our issue is with SITLA which seems to have little regard for Sportsmen as well as for transparency,” he said. “We recognize the need for energy and we understand that to get it, we’re going to have to identify areas to drill. But there are places where drilling makes little sense when balanced against other resource values, and the heart of the Book Cliffs is one of them.”
“Fortunately Anadarko seems to understand that,” continued Snider. “They’ve stepped up and indicated a willingness to work with sportsmen to find an amenable solution. We applaud that commitment, as this process can only succeed with that kind of open and honest dialog on the part of all participants. The time for backroom deals and political sleight of hands is over. We feel there is room for a win-win opportunity if we continue to work through the process. We owe it to the people of this State to protect the Book Cliffs while finding areas which are more suitable for energy development.”
What will ultimately happen with the Book Cliffs is anyone’s guess. Stay tuned.