Historic Moab planning decision makes public lands a level playing field

Finalized today by the Bureau of Land Management, the Moab Master Leasing Plan (MLP) represents a historic achievement for the small businesses and citizens of Moab, Utah. After decades of conflict over leasing and drilling, Moab now has a detailed, comprehensive plan to guide future energy development on its public lands, one that will safeguard its world-class natural and recreation resources, including its two national parks, Arches and Canyonlands.

The Moab MLP strikes a unique balance between energy development opportunities and special resource protections across its 800,000-acre planning area. Along with safeguards for Arches and Canyonlands, it includes robust protections for the Green River corridor, the extensive network of hiking, biking and off-road trails, and the hundreds of cultural and archaeological sites around Moab. These are the world-class recreation resources that drive Moab’s economy, as well as Utah’s $12 billion outdoor recreation industry.

At the same time, the MLP allows for responsible, carefully-conditioned oil, gas and potash exploration and development on hundreds of thousands of less-sensitive acres in the planning area. It protects the special places and unique resources that draw millions of visitors to Moab every year, while still providing opportunities for responsible development.

Identifying a shared vision for the Moab-area required years of thoughtful planning, stakeholder collaboration and public outreach by the BLM. During the drafting process, BLM held numerous public meetings, workshops and open houses, consulted with dozens of tribes and local governments, met directly with industry representatives, and reviewed thousands of public comment letters. Largely because of this outreach, the MLP earned the endorsement of both Grand County and the City of Moab, along with the support of more than seventy-five local, Moab-area businesses. Put simply, the plan won the support of so many business and elected officials from the community because BLM listened carefully to local input.

Particularly now, as we transition to a new presidential administration, this plan should be held up as a model for balanced, responsible, locally-driven decision-making on public lands. Although BLM is already in the process of drafting MLPs in other areas across the West, like the San Rafael Desert in Utah and the South Park region in Colorado, there are other important areas where BLM should be using this tool to engage with the public and take a more closely-focused look at its planning decisions, like on lands around Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado. Like Moab, the communities near Mesa Verde depend heavily on revenue from visitation and tourism to the national park. And BLM should also be looking for ways to adapt principles from Master Leasing Plans to its land use and oil and gas planning processes more broadly.

In contrast with the congressional gridlock in Washington, the Moab MLP stands out as a shining example of decision-making on western public lands that supports small businesses. Managing public lands for multiple-uses in the twenty-first century, satisfying the diverse demands and competing interests that touch these lands, is an increasingly complex and difficult task. In finalizing the Moab MLP today, BLM has given us a valuable piece of precedent and shown us a genuinely promising path forward.

Join the effort to strengthen the American West.