Op-Ed: National Parks Should Be Considered Before Oil and Gas Leasing

By Coalition member Fred J. Fagergren

Published on July 22, 2017 in The Salt Lake Tribune

Last year, we celebrated the centennial of the National Park Service and the amazing places across our country our national parks protect. Having grown up in four great western national parks — Zion, Mesa Verde, Petrified Forest and Grand Teton and serving as a National Park Superintendent for 29 years, completing my career at Bryce Canyon National Park, I know firsthand that our country’s most extraordinary natural, cultural and historical landmarks are places that should be celebrated every day.

Yet, as we encourage our friends and family to get outside and “find their park,” we also must ensure these places are protected and preserved for future generations to explore. That means not only protecting the parks themselves, but also insuring what happens outside a park does not harm it or the experience of its visitors.

The same landscapes that house many southwestern national parks are also where pressure exists to lease land for oil and gas development. Sometimes, leasing can happen right at a park’s doorstep. Right now the Vernal Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is considering leasing lands adjacent to Dinosaur National Monument, in direct view of the park entrance road, Dinosaur Quarry Visitor Center and Carnegie Fossil Quarry.

National Park Service (NPS) staff at Dinosaur has asked that some of these parcels not be leased because their development would hurt both the environmental quality and visitor experience at the park. I hope the BLM listens to them, and I encourage the public to send their comments to the BLM’s Vernal Field Office by July 24.

A similar situation occurred recently at Zion National Park, one of our country’s most popular national parks. Sale of parcels for potential oil and gas development less than two miles outside of Zion were under consideration. Opposition from Zion’s NPS staff, local communities and public comments from around the country resulted in the BLM pulling these parcels from the planned sale, but these magnificent places might not be protected in the future.

A new report from the National Parks Conservation Association, “Out of Balance: National Parks and the Threat of Oil and Gas Development,” considers threats from oil and gas development to some of the most iconic national parks here in the southwest including noise and light pollution, wildlife disruption, and damage to wilderness areas.

The report underscores the importance of balancing the various uses of our public lands, in part because of the immense value they hold beyond the energy resources beneath the surface. Last year, our national parks generated nearly $35 billion dollars in economic activity, and outdoor recreation businesses across the country were strengthened by the more than 330 million visitors who spent time enjoying America’s national parks.

In addition to Zion and Dinosaur, Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado, Chaco Culture National Historic Park and Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico and Canyonlands and Capitol Reef in Utah are just some of the other parks in our region at risk of nearby development. Oil derricks, hazy skies and loud equipment at the doorstep of any of these special places is short-sighted and ill advised.

Going forward the BLM needs to make certain development is done responsibly and far from our national parks. Approaches exist for striking a balance on public lands that can reduce uncertainty for industry while preserving the wonders of our national parks. Our leaders should ensure that what threatens parks across the West, won’t become commonplace across the country. After all, it is important to remember that these places, and all they provide for Americans and visitors alike, are still “America’s best idea.”

Coalition member Fred J. Fagergren retired from the National Park Service in 2002 after 34 years, 29 of those serving as a park superintendent, completing his career at Bryce Canyon National Park. During his NPS tenure, Fagergren was awarded Superintendent of the Year Award for Natural Resources Stewardship, Department of the Interior Superior Service Award, Exemplary Leadership award, 1995 – 1997, and two Secretary of the Interior Citations for natural resource protection and restoration. He currently lives in Santa Clara, Utah with his wife, Donna.

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