BLM Backs Off Offering Drilling Leases at Petroglyph Site

BLM Backs Off Offering Drilling Leases at Petroglyph Site

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- The Bureau of Land Management has backed off offering oil and gas drilling leases at Parowan Gap, one of Utah's most notable petroglyph sites.

BLM officials had included the region, about 15 miles northeast of Parowan in southwestern Utah, among tracts tentatively planned to be offered for oil and gas leasing on May 17.

The plan drew strong opposition.

On Friday, a BLM group agreed to withdraw six parcels in and around the Gap from the lease auction.

Don Banks, BLM spokesman, said the agency always intended that the petroglyphs be protected. If the gap had been leased, BLM rules would have prohibited surface occupancy, meaning reserves would have to be tapped through slant drilling from some nearby area.

"We do take the input we received during the protest period seriously," he said last week before the decision.

Following the decision, he sent an e-mail detailing the six parcels were to be withdrawn from the sale. "This includes the parcels where the petroglyph panel is located ... and five other contiguous tracts that combine to form a several square mile block that is now deferred from leasing," he said.

A coalition including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club and the Grand Canyon Trust called on the BLM not to lease the land.

Kenneth Brewer, Utah's poet laureate, wrote a letter to the Utah BLM in opposition to the leasing.

"I usually don't do this kind of stuff," the retired Utah State University professor told the Deseret Morning News. "I've been in the Parowan Gap several times. I consider that an art gallery and museum."

The petroglyphs are in a narrow canyon through the Red Hills. They include zigzag snake designs, ladder-like objects, circles and other designs. Some dots may be numerical.

Archaeologists are uncertain what the designs mean and when they were made, though they are ancient.

One theory is that some lines amount to an ancient calendar. This theory holds that the ancients made notches marking the path of the sun through the gap and used the marks to track the seasons.

The BLM said some of the petroglyphs could be from the Sevier-Fremont culture of more than 1,000 years ago. Some of the art may date back to the much earlier people, called Archaic.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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