Take it or Leave it: BEARS EARS, OIL LEASES AND A “SHOE ON THE OTHER FOOT”…by Jim Stiles

First, in the spirit of the season, let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the way liberals and conservatives view public lands in the western United States…

Liberals tend to prefer greater restrictions and regulations on public lands when it comes to resource development and energy extraction. Without them, they believe the public lands will be decimated. They will consider closures of some federally owned lands, even if there is energy potential, because they believe the damage to the resource is too great to risk. And lately, they’ve claimed that the effects of climate change require the government to move away from fossil fuels. Liberals are fast moving toward an amenities economy across the West that preserves its natural beauty and they fear that resource extraction will damage the success of a “New West” economy.

Conservatives are more likely to support energy development on public lands in the West because they believe the growing demand for resources requires that development. They also believe that layers of federal regulations stymie growth and create unneeded roadblocks to economic gains. They point to the last ten years, the ‘fracking revolution,’  and the subsequent fall of energy prices worldwide to support their claim. They note that, ironically, cheaper energy prices have especially been a boon to the tourism economy.  They also believe that an expanded oil and gas industry not only creates more jobs but better paying ones as well. They point to the fact that tourist-based economies in rural communities have resulted in exorbitant home prices and low paying jobs.

Ok…so those are the two best-case prevailing points of view.

Jump to 2016. Environmentalists and Progressives supported a massive Bears Ears National Monument in southeast Utah.

Conservatives strongly opposed the monument and believed it is an overreach of the federal government and the president’s authority.

Secretary Sally Jewell

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell came to Utah to hear both sides of the issue. But PLEASE…let’s be honest. No one thought Jewell would come down on the side of monument opponents. And as the presidential election approached and almost all the pundits were predicting a Hillary landslide of “historic proportions,” Bears Ears National Monument felt like a foregone conclusion. President Obama would make the proclamation, President Clinton would implement it.

Then November 8 happened.

Knowing that a Trump administration would be taking office in January and had already expressed its specific opposition to the monument, would Obama create the monument anyway?

He did. On December 28, the proclamation decreed a 1.35 million acre Bears Ears National Monument.

President Trump

When the Trump administration later announced it would rescind or reduce the size of the monument, progressive environmentalists were outraged. How could President Trump cancel or modify the wishes of a previous administration? Fury and outrage prevailed.

Seriously? Go back eight years.

In the last month before President-elect Obama was to take office, the Bush administration announced plans to proceed with more than 100 oil and gas lease sales on BLM lands near Moab, Utah and Arches National Park. The LA TImes reported that the BLM was “deflecting accusations by environmental groups that (Bush) was handing a ‘parting gift’  to the energy industry before the Obama administration takes over.”

President Bush

It further reported that:

“The disclosure of the auction several days later sparked complaints that the Bush administration was trying to rush the leases before leaving office. The co-chair of President-elect Barack Obama’s transition team, John Podesta, said the new administration may try to reverse the sales.”

And Stephen Block, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance complained,  “This is the cementing of the Bush administration legacy in Utah...That’s their parting gift to the industry and the American public to conduct this at the last minute.”

It was, in fact, at one of these lease auctions that environmental activist Tim DeChristopher bid on proposed oil leases with no intent to pay and later served time in federal prison for his actions.

Tim DeChristopher

The Salt Lake Tribune noted that: ” DeChristopher won bids on 22,000 acres in Utah’s red rock country, near Arches and Canyonlands national parks.” Environmentalists had accused the Bush administration of trying to ram through the sale of the environmentally sensitive land before President Obama was sworn in.”

Later, in January 2009, as Obama took the oath, environmentalists without exception believed that the new administration should not be bound or conflicted by the “last minute” efforts of the previous administration to impose its will on the next and contrary to the stated environmental objectives of the new Interior Department.

President Obama

And months later, as expected by everyone, the Salt Lake Tribune reported that, “Obama’s Interior Department eventually ruled that its predecessor had incorrectly administered the lease sale and yanked the parcels off the auction block.”

In 2008, Republicans were doing what they’re philosophically bound to do. In 2016. It was the Democrats playing the exact same strategy, with the shoe on the other foot.

The idea that there is a fundamental difference of opinion as to how public lands should be utilized is no secret. The fact that so many environmentalists are acting shocked and outraged is a tad silly. It reminds me of the scene in ‘Casablanca’ when Louie suddenly shuts down Rick’s Cafe.’

“I’m shocked. SHOCKED to learn there is gambling going on in this establishment!”

Whatever your personal preferences are, both sides are playing the same game.


Jim Stiles is Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.


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14 comments for “Take it or Leave it: BEARS EARS, OIL LEASES AND A “SHOE ON THE OTHER FOOT”…by Jim Stiles

  1. Chris Carrier
    December 5, 2017 at 10:43 am

    Can’t have the recreational tourist economy without Oil and Gas. If you want to get in your car and drive hundreds of miles to go for a walk or ride your bike it requires oil. Enough said.

  2. Kent Slaughter
    December 5, 2017 at 4:22 pm

    Great historical perspective. Politicians and their art of Rightous Indignation- Your way is wrong, we will reverse your laws as soon as we regain The Power. I’m not taking sides here, simplistic answers are never going to work for everyone.

    December 6, 2017 at 4:27 pm

    I agree with the comparison. Political plums go to the winner. I look forward to seeing how the law suits will pan out on the designations by the NGO’s and their allies. I expect that Utah’s conservative delegation will move toward exempting it from more monument making by doing some sort of deal to counter a reversal if they can. Once the outrage dies down and we are back to insulting each other for our shortsighted views things will get back to normal.

  4. Lynn Jackson
    December 7, 2017 at 9:22 am

    I’m a conservative and I believe there are areas that have special qualities and features that should be set aside from development. I also believe there are areas so remote and wild that they should be set aside as wilderness. And I know many conservatives are in general agreement with this.

    In my opinion however, the main difference between conservatives and liberals on this issue is typically one of scale. The liberals would shut down every last acre, irrespective of any consequences. Conservatives take a more pragmatic approach, realizing humans rely on resources produced from those lands, and are in fact part of the landscape. Use some. Protect some. In other words – utilize some common sense. The liberal side would have none of that. They simply don’t care if a snail darter shuts down a 500 employee mill or mine. They don’t care if a community is economically devastated by such decisions.

    In my four years working on the PLI for Grand County, meeting with all types of people and groups, the only ones who refused any level of compromise were the liberals. They would not compromise one square inch. I was told, off the record, they didn’t need to, they had their man in the White House, he’d give them everything they wanted. Our conservative side spent four years “negotiating” with a gun held to our head. Funny how karma can play out, and who ended up with the final “Trump” card in this debacle.

    Liberals used to be democrats, the party of the working people. That is no longer the case. They’ve abandoned the working family to support an ever increasing range of fringe groups and anti-American sentiment. The transition has been astounding and quite observable during my 64 years on the planet.

    In the end, they brought this on themselves and have no one to blame but themselves. It cost them at the two Utah monuments, and I believe it will ultimately cost them the Antiquities Act and the ability for a President to unilaterally create
    national monuments. They got what they deserved.

  5. Patrick Hunter, Carbondale, CO
    December 10, 2017 at 10:07 am

    Why is Trump chopping the monuments? Is it because of big business interests who see large profits on federal lands? So doesn’t this boil down to business profit versus conservation? (note that the root of conservation is conserve—how does that compare to a “conservative” political party)

    The debate always comes down to what is best for people; and often to which people. This is the short run calculation. But in the long run, it is about our children and grandchildren.

    The argument for developing oil and gas in the protected areas is false. 1) we should bring back the prohibition on exporting our fossil fuel resources. 2) we have more than sufficient resources already accessed. 3) we are now burning too much and need to switch as quickly as possible to renewables. 4) money that would be spent to extract more fossil fuel should be spent on the new energy economy, not the old. 5) renewable energy, once developed, delivers essentially free energy. These investments pay dividends.

    Stop with the “tribal” politics.Stop demonizing the “other side”. Some very devious people have constructed this political environment over several decades. The 1% has invested hundreds of millions to gain control over politics and our institutions. Take a hard look at who is benefiting. Don’t be manipulated. The 1%’s share of the nation’s wealth is increasing year by year.

  6. Ted S Levy
    December 11, 2017 at 4:52 pm

    I just read your Oct 3 and Dec 5 articles on this subject. They are very interesting and well balanced. Personally, I think Utah does a pretty good job of managing our state lands and balancing the various competing interest, though to be fair, I think the Federal government does a good job as well. If given a choice I would opt for local control, as it is more responseive to local needs.
    I hope that, at some point, you describe the economic impact of the alternatives….i.e. what are the expected costs and benefits to the State of Utah from owning the land (assuming that the State plans to do something with the land that they did not do before it was appropriated by the Feds) ?

  7. Mike
    December 13, 2017 at 10:58 pm

    If you “leave it,” and protect it, it gives future generations a choice. If you take it, and “develop” the resources, whether through overgrazing, mining, or unchecked OHV use, recovery in the arid west, if it ever happens, will take generations. I also don’t agree that liberals don’t/won’t support balanced use. Look at the overall condition of public lands – and range lands and areas that have been mined in particular – and tell me if that’s the legacy we should be leaving for future generations. Republicans in Congress who profess to have the best interest of local working class folks in mind are full of crap, if you ask me.

  8. Bob Phillips
    December 20, 2017 at 6:40 pm

    Hi Jim: I have been following your articles about “Bears Ears”, and I agree with nearly all you have said. Good work. However, the amenities economy of Industrial Tourism is not the most damaging in the long-term; it is second–to strip mining (and its kin, “mountain top removal” back east). Strip mining literally destroys desert ecosystems for perhaps geologic time.
    In 1973, at the then primitive rest stop between Hite and Hanksville, a BLM sign touted the tar and oil sands of the area. The sign’s been changed, and it no longer tells that to the tourists. In addition, though the Alton coal mine has been minimally developed, there are large unexploited coal fields in the Kaiparowits Plateau. So far, these fossil fuels have not been economic to extensively develop; and, hopefully, we will transition to a renewable energy economy before they are exploited.
    In 1980, I drove through the Black Mesa coal mine. I can still see the hills of grey-green rubble covered with tumbleweeds where redrock cliffs and canyons used to be. I’ve also been in Glen Canyon before the reservoir (as a teen) and Arches and Canyonlands NPs when you could still legally camp in the backcountry without a permit and cook on a wood fire. (Even shared beers around a campfire with a uniformed ranger in the Needles backcountry in 1973 [how times change!].) So, I have seen both the extremes of extractive land (ab)use and the parks before Industrial Tourism kicked into high gear.
    Though I have some sympathy with working people who need to live off the land, much of the problem of “jobs” is of the making by a culture that excessively reproduces and then expects the land and those of us who do not excessively reproduce to accommodate them. (I read that Cliven Bundy has 14 children; I have 1.) As Ed Abbey said: “Growth is the ideology of the cancer cell.”
    Bob Phillips

  9. Joe D.
    December 21, 2017 at 11:29 pm

    Jim, comparing the rescission of leases – transactions that ebb and flow over decades depending on the current value of the underlying resource – to the unprecedented reversal of a legally designated protection? That is quite a stretch.

    January 15, 2018 at 6:33 pm

    One of the things I always did when visiting Moab was grab a copy of the Zephyr–have followed you for more than 20 years Jim. Your recent comments about Bears Ears and federal land protection in Utah seem to be falsely predicated on your being appalled by the damage done by the recreation crowd. I get that! But, thinking that the mess left by rock climbers and mountain bikers can in any way be equated to that left behind by uranium mines defies reason. How would the area look had there been no federal protection at all? Southern Utah has been discovered and there’s no going back. Sophie’s Choice now is trust the lobbyists for the energy industry or deal with crowds of tourists that besiege the place. Wonder what you think about the latest New York Times article about the role of Canadian mining giant Energy Fuels and their efforts to reduce Bears Ears (https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/13/climate/trump-uranium-bears-ears.html).

  11. jim stiles
    January 16, 2018 at 5:23 pm

    John Williams—President Obama, not Trump, reduced the original Bears Ears proposal from 1.9 million acres to 1.3 million acres so that the Daneros Uranium Mine in White Canyon could continue to operate and even expand. And of COURSE I’m not comparing present day recreational impacts to the original uranium boom that occurred in the 1950s. When did I say that??? But as far as your loathing of the energy industry goes, what exactly is it that runs the Industrial Recreation Industry, John?…what do you think propels the “crowds of tourists that besiege the place?” Could it be..you know…OIL??? Let’s do this..let’s ONLY allow tourists to come to the parks who don’t use oil in any way to reach their destinations…that would solve the problem in so many ways, including the matter of hypocrisy.

  12. wasatchcascade
    January 17, 2018 at 5:46 pm

    The PLI, depends I think on what angle and which rose colored glasses one is viewing events through. How many after they met with Rob Bishop (if he would ever agree to meet) felt like they were listened to or paid attention? And what were the bargaining tools on the Bishop side that were part of the PLI? Those that were mandated or negotiated?

    And Bears Ears; I’ve been in most quadrants and corners of that terrain for years; and have been on foot, in canyons, on ridges, and at times in various vehicles too. Extraction industry? Well many decades ago politicians objected to Canyonlands, Arches, Natural Bridges and Hovenweap, all asserting that roads, development and industry would be impaired? And a time and place for oil/gas operations? Cedar Mesa, Comb Wash, White and Dark Canyon – should drilling sites sit atop mesas in those zones, or do cultural and historical remnant have a more meaningful purpose?

    And if I drive atop Cottonwood Canyon into Beef Basin or Ruin park, do I have to also pay alms to oil and gas operations in those same areas, if I’m using petroleum/oil in a vehicle? And what about the interests of the five tribes that sought some recognition of thousands of cultural sites that for years have been looted, dug up and damaged by locals and others?

    The interests; native american’s, landscapes, ecology, wildlife; and then hunting, ATV’s, UTV’s, guns, anywhere driving and camping; hikers, backpackers, river runners, climbers. Why put political labels on landscape interests? Privately I know why some groups wish to intervene in litigation re Monuments; they don’t want any restriction that will require street legal only in some/most or all zones. And they want to be able to take out any handgun, rifle, semi-auto AR15 type weapon and shoot when and where they want. And those that hunt, they want to be able to ride, hunt, shoot deer, elk, desert big horn, coyote, cougar, bear, varmint, without any restriction or concern? All of us I assume, buy gas/oil for our vehicles, and all of us I assume would loathe an oil gas operation that was in our back yard fouling our air, underground water and community. Otherwise, most of us don’t think about it, as we are not directly impacted; But it is a relevant question as to where it’s appropriate to place industrial operation and where it’s better to leave the land alone – and then all the humans can yell at each other re their private interests; or calamity may come, communities fail, industries falter, and the land/resource is simply left alone – from all of us. The rich man climber as the Sutherland Institute like to call “them” or Don Peay’s hunting guides that want to peddle their UTV’s wherever, so they can shoot and take the life out of wild animals?

    Every time I go to the Maze, or the backcountry, off trail sections of Arches, or to far off reaches of Needles – do I or my partners ever think or talk about industrial tourism (no) – unless at night we are reading Abby, or more recent missives of Stiles? So many narratives, tribes, languages, and all of us blinded(?) guided(?) by our experience or lack of it in life and in the canyons? And so many out there, so sure of themselves, writers, politicians making decisions about land/resource matters, that have never been in the areas in question. Some know zones and others; ask most Utah politicians about (for example) White Canyon, Cedar Mesa or Comb Wash and they stammer and announce, what? Too bad Stegner, Brower and Udall are not around, so they could knock their “sense” into debates like this. But then I’m sure many would bash Stegner, just as they malign Yvone these days? Bates Wilson, you groveling about in your grave?

  13. Clare Gallagher
    February 5, 2018 at 6:52 pm

    With all due respect, I am VERY CONFUSED. Not once did you mention the interests of Native Americans. By ignoring the TRUE history of the land around Bears Ears, your arguments fall flat and reveal how truly misinformed you are. I highly recommend using current facts to bolster your opinions and then maybe your opinions would actually take Native American’s centuries long fight to protect and manage this land into account. Why use a definition of liberal and conservative to discuss Bears Ears? Where is any mention of Bears Ears and Native history and the long history of trying to protect this land? I recommend starting your informed reading here: https://www.sltrib.com/news/politics/2017/12/04/five-american-indian-tribes-furious-over-trump-shrinking-bears-ears-sue-the-president/

  14. February 6, 2018 at 4:10 pm

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