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Written by Amy Cole and Ti Hays

More than 10,000 prehistoric rock art images exist in Nine Mile Canyon, which also contains sites associated with pioneer settlement and ranching history.

More than 10,000 prehistoric rock art images exist in Nine Mile Canyon, which also contains sites associated with pioneer settlement and ranching history.

Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon has been the focus of National Trust for Historic Preservation advocacy efforts for nearly ten years due to the adverse effects from a series of natural gas development proposals on the canyon’s remarkable collection of prehistoric rock art sites. Today, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) – the federal agency responsible for permitting oil and gas activities on federal land in and near the canyon – along with the Utah State Historic Preservation Office, the Bill Barrett Corporation, and a coalition of preservation groups that includes the National Trust will formally announce an agreement that will help protect the canyon’s significant resources from further damage.

More than 10,000 prehistoric rock art images exist in Nine Mile Canyon, which also contains sites associated with pioneer settlement and ranching history. Natural gas reserves are present in Nine Mile and on the adjoining West Tavaputs Plateau, where drilling has been increasing in recent years. The National Trust became concerned that drilling, increased traffic, and industrialization of the landscape associated with growing energy development were having negative effects on important cultural resources. In particular, dust and potentially harmful chemicals were being deposited on ancient rock art by oil and gas traffic that uses the canyon’s dirt roads. Infrastructure associated with natural gas development – compressor stations, pipelines, and staging areas – was also changing the canyon’s landscape setting. 

Beginning in 2001, the National Trust participated in the public review process under the National Environmental Policy Act for energy exploration and development projects near Nine Mile. Our advocacy efforts intensified in 2004 when the Bill Barrett Corporation began drilling exploratory wells on the West Tavaputs Plateau, which led to the currently-proposed development of up to 807 natural gas wells in and around Nine Mile Canyon. That same year, we listed Nine Mile Canyon as one of America's 11 Most Endangered Historic Places

For a number of years, the National Trust worked with the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition, the Colorado Plateau Archeological Alliance, the State Historic Preservation Office, the National Park Service, and BLM to ensure that Nine Mile Canyon sites were listed on the National Register of Historic Places. We organized a field trip for National Register staff, helped to fund a National Register nomination, and participated in various meetings with partners to identify the best course of action for National Register designation of sites in the canyon. Happily, we can report that in December of 2009, 63 sites in Nine Mile Canyon – including sites from the prehistoric and historic periods – have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

We're hoping that is just the beginning.

The National Trust also participated in a recent lawsuit over a decision by BLM to issue additional oil and gas leases near Nine Mile Canyon, which have led to even more potentially harmful truck traffic in the canyon. This lawsuit was ultimately successful when a federal court in Washington, DC sided with the National Trust and its conservation partners, ordering BLM not to formally transfer the leases. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar went one step farther in February of 2009 when he cancelled the leases after acknowledging that BLM had violated the law by issuing them.

Additionally, for several years, the National Trust unsuccessfully sought to be recognized by BLM as a consulting party under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) for two oil and gas projects near Nine Mile Canyon, including the Bill Barrett Corporation’s West Tavaputs Project. Section 106 of NHPA requires federal agencies, including BLM, to consult with a variety of stakeholders to identify ways to avoid, minimize, or mitigate the adverse effects their projects could have on historic resources. BLM finally agreed to accept consulting parties for the West Tavaputs Projects in January 2009, and thanks to encouragement from Native American tribes and the National Trust, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation formally entered consultation with BLM. 

Through the Section 106 process, the National Trust and many other groups have since been participating in year-long negotiations about the impacts the West Tavaputs Project could have on significant sites in and around Nine Mile Canyon. Furthermore, due to our efforts, BLM agreed to revise several important determinations required by the Section 106 regulations. BLM agreed that the project could potentially impact a larger geographic area than originally identified, and for the first time ever, acknowledged that oil and gas traffic in the canyon had the potential to adversely affect not only individual rock art sites, but also the landscape setting of those sites.

The outcome of these negotiations will be documented in the formal NHPA Programmatic Agreement that will be signed today. In short, the agreement calls for more archaeological surveys, National Register nominations for sites in the canyon, development of conservation treatments for rock art impacted by dust, continuing research into the effects of dust on rock art, and development of visitor interpretation sites in the canyon.

The National Trust is cautiously optimistic that the terms of the Programmatic Agreement will be beneficial to Nine Mile Canyon's impressive collection of rock art and other significant resources, and that it will help mitigate the effects of the West Tavaputs Project. Once the agreement is signed, we will monitor its implementation and hope that it will serve as a model for other BLM projects in the future.

Learn more about Nine Mile Canyon, the West Tavaputs Project, and the Programmatic Agreement being signed today.

Amy Cole is a senior program officer in the National Trust's Mountains/Plains Office. Ti Hays is a project attorney for public lands who is based in the same office. Both have been heavily involved in the National Trust's efforts to protect Nine Mile Canyon and its fragile cultural resources over the past ten years.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

63 Sites in Nine Mile Canyon Added to the National Register

Posted on: December 1st, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Amy Cole

The pregnant buffalo rock art panel is one of the sites just listed in the National Register.

The pregnant buffalo rock art panel is one of the sites just listed in the National Register.

Great news for Nine Mile Canyon! The National Trust for Historic Preservation is pleased to report that 63 sites in Nine Mile Canyon, Utah, including sites from the prehistoric and historic periods of occupation, have just been listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The sites were nominated to the National Register by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is a major property owner in the Canyon, located near Price, Utah. The National Trust has long advocated for the protection of the vast collection of historic and prehistoric resources in the Canyon, including listing it as one of 2004’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places. The listing of these sites, and the promise by BLM to continue nominating additional sites, marks an important turning point as both BLM and the National Register now formally recognize the significance of Nile Mile’s historic and prehistoric places.

Read the BLM's press release here.

Amy Cole is the senior program officer/attorney for the National Trust's Mountains/Plains Office in Denver, CO.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Canyons of the Ancients National Monument Gains Important New Acreage

Posted on: November 24th, 2009 by Guest Writer

 

Written by LouAnn Jacobson

On Friday, November 13--an easy day for me to remember--the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), Canyons of the Ancients National Monument acquired 4,573 acres. There are seven individual parcels: six are inholdings inside the monument boundaries and surrounded on all sides by BLM land; one is an edgeholding adjacent to the Monument boundary with BLM on three sides.

The family that owned the property listed it for sale in 2006 and it was to be sold at auction in late August 2009. The Conservation Fund--a not-for-profit organization committed to protecting America's working landscapes--negotiated a contract to purchase the property with the understanding that the BLM in turn would buy the land. Starting in 2006, the road toward purchase had a lot of twists and turns. It's amazing to me that last spring (2009) I was ready to give up and on November 13, I uncapped the yellow magic marker and colored in 4,573 acres that are now part of the Monument.

When we realized the acquisition might become a reality, literally dozens (46 and still counting) of people stepped up: staff at all levels of BLM and the Department of the Interior worked on funding, title reviews, the appraisal, inspections, and the myriad tasks required for the federal government to purchase private property; The Conservation Fund worked directly the seller's Realtor; and the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the project at the top of their preservation priority list and reinforced the significance of the property.

Why did BLM acquire the property? There are 25 currently-documented cultural sites and we predict there could be as many as 700, including one of the earliest documented sites in the southwestern United States. Documented by the Hayden survey and photographed by William Henry Jackson in 1874, this site helped bring Colorado archaeology to the attention of scholars and the general public more than a decade before the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde were discovered by Anglo ranchers. A second known site, first photographed in 1908, includes a tower with massive standing walls, a signature of Late Pueblo III Ancestral Puebloan sites. The property also include a one-of-a-kind Ancestral Puebloan solstice marker.

In addition, three of the parcels include riparian areas--a rare ecosystem in southwest Colorado. Purchasing these parcels presents an opportunity to reclaim and protect these riparian areas. Blocking up public land will help us improve rangeland health conditions and better manage the associated grazing allotments. The parcels are isolated and mostly roadless, providing panoramic vistas with deeply-incised canyons, sheer sandstone cliffs, and opportunities for solitude, bird watching, and hiking.

... Read More →

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

Guest Writer

Although we're always on the lookout for blog content, we encourage readers to submit story ideas or let us know if you've seen something that might be interesting and engaging for a national audience. Email us at editorial@savingplaces.org.

Interior Department Calls a "Time Out" on Oil & Gas Leasing Near Nine Mile Canyon

Posted on: October 9th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Statement from Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation:

Ancient, fragile rock art and heavy, dust-churning truck traffic – it’s a formula for disaster, and it’s been a reality at Utah’s Nine Mile Canyon for much too long. But now, thanks to commendable efforts by Interior Secretary Salazar and his staff, there’s some good news: The Interior Department has called a “time-out” on oil and gas leasing on sensitive public lands near Nine Mile Canyon until “significant progress” is made in implementing dust-abatement procedures and ensuring the protection of the canyon’s irreplaceable cultural treasures.

Today’s report underscores what the National Trust and our partner organizations have always insisted: We don’t have to choose between meeting our energy needs and protecting our heritage. We can do both – but only if all the parties involved, from federal agencies to oil and gas companies – develop sensible regulations and abide by them. We can’t take Nine Mile Canyon off the endangered list yet, but today’s report represents a major step in the right direction.

Why is "significant progress" needed in dust abatement? Two National Trust staffers found out firsthand in April 2008.

Learn more:

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.

Federal Court Upholds Protections to Cultural and Natural Resources at Utah Monument

Posted on: September 4th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation

 

Written by Ti Hays

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument: 1.7 million acres of "one of a kind." Photo courtesy of BLM.

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (Map: BLM)

On Tuesday, a federal court of appeals in Denver ruled that vehicle routes in Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument that are closed to protect cultural and natural resources will remain that way—at least until Kane County can prove that it, and not the federal government, owns them.

The dispute underlying the case began in 1999 when the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized a resource management plan for the Monument. In that plan, BLM closed several vehicle routes in order to protect the historic and scientific “objects of interest” identified in the Monument’s proclamation, including hundreds of “rock art panels, occupation sites, campsites and granaries,” as well as “many historic objects, including trails, inscriptions, ghost towns such as the Old Paria townsite, rock houses, and cowboy line camps. . . .”

Quite unhappy with the route closures, officials with Kane County entered the Monument in 2003 and removed about 30 BLM signs informing the public that certain routes had been closed to vehicles. Two years later, county officials again entered the Monument, this time posting over 100 signs declaring numerous routes to be “open” that BLM had closed in the management plan. Later that same year, Kane County fired yet another salvo at the Monument’s management plan when it passed an ordinance authorizing vehicle use on closed routes in the Monument.

What motivated Kane County to repeatedly flout the federal government’s authority over the Monument? Well, like many rural counties in the West, Kane County believes that the vast majority of routes on federal public land, even in protected areas like national monuments, national parks and wilderness areas, are not owned by the federal government. Rather, these counties fervently insist that ownership of those routes has passed from the federal government to counties and states under R.S. 2477—a 19th century statute granting rights of way to anyone willing to construct a “highway” over federal public lands. Yet, in spite of this insistence, Kane County has thus far not been willing to prove to a court that any of the Monument’s routes are actually owned by the county under R.S. 2477.

Soon after Kane County passed the ordinance, The Wilderness Society and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed suit in federal district court against the county and its commissioners. The two conservation groups argued that Kane County’s efforts to reopen the closed routes were inconsistent with the Monument’s management plan and, therefore, “preempted” by the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, which establishes federal law as the “supreme Law of the Land. . . .” The district court agreed and enjoined the county from enacting ordinances and posting signs that opened closed routes in the Monument until it had proved ownership of those routes.

Kane County appealed, and, in November 2008, the National Trust for Historic Preservation filed an amicus brief with U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit asking the court to affirm the district court’s decision. Our brief highlighted how a decision upholding the county’s action could undermine efforts by federal land managers to develop and implement comprehensive travel plans not only for the Monument, but for public lands throughout the West. The brief also discussed the likely chilling effect a decision in favor of the county would have on federal land managers’ willingness to close claimed but unproven R.S. 2477 rights of way, even when vehicle use was damaging or destroying cultural resources.

Recognizing that Kane County had proceeded “unilaterally” and without first proving ownership over the routes in question, the Tenth Circuit affirmed the lower court’s decision. If the county wants to exercise management authority over routes in the Monument, then the Tenth Circuit said that it must do more than “simply alleg[e] the existence of R.S. 2477 rights of way; it must prove those rights in a court of law . . . or obtain some other recognition of such rights under federal law”—a sensible holding that treats the county no differently from anyone else claiming an interest in property.

Ti Hays is the public lands counsel for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

National Trust for Historic Preservation

National Trust for Historic Preservation

The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded non-profit organization, works to save America's historic places.