We have very exciting news to share: Bears Ears Partnership has just been notified that our litigation and settlement over the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) March and December 2018 oil and gas lease sales in the Lands Between has resulted in the cancellation of 25 of the 28 parcels - a total of 40,296.23 acres - as of this morning. This is a major win for this tremendously significant cultural landscape and for descendant communities across the region.

TLB AcomaApproved Image5 Honeycomb granary widePhoto by Josh Ewing.

The Lands Between is held sacred to our partners at the Pueblo of Acoma, in addition to numerous other Tribes and Pueblos, who have led the call for more enduring protections. This decision is the result of nearly six years of historic hard work and collaboration between the Pueblo of Acoma and our team at BEP - represented by Advocates for the West.  We applaud this decision by the Bureau of Land Management ensuring Indigenous communities have a role in how culturally important landscapes are leased for development. 

“Acoma is deeply grateful for the BLM’s decision to cancel these leases, which affirms the importance of this landscape for the Pueblo of Acoma and other Pueblos and Tribes. This landscape is a living testament to our ancestors and our ongoing cultural traditions. Preserving these areas from development allows us to maintain our deep connection to our history and educate future generations about their rich cultural heritage,” says Governor Randall Vicente of the Pueblo of Acoma.

Governor Vicente continues, “the BLM’s Record of Decision emphasized the incomplete original NEPA analysis and recognized that the leases were improperly issued without sufficient information to determine whether leasing was in the public interest. This careful consideration ensures that the management of these lands aligns with the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLMPA) and other applicable laws. This decision is a powerful reminder of the importance of tribal consultation and the need for rigorous environmental reviews.” 

BEP is honored to contribute to this campaign and we extend our deepest gratitude to the Bureau of Land Management for continuing their strong commitment to consultation with the Pueblo of Acoma and other Tribal communities. Another thank you to our partners at the Pueblo of Acoma, to Sarah Stellberg of Advocates for the West, to The Lands Between partners and to all supporters whose dedication has made this decision possible. 

What is the Lands Between? 

The Lands Between is an ancestral and spiritual home of the Pueblo of Acoma, Hopi, Zuni, the Rio Grande Pueblos, Nuche (Ute), Diné (Navajo), Paiute, and other Indigenous people, that preserves a history of human occupation dating to at least the Archaic period (6,000 to 2,000 BC). Located between Bears Ears, Canyons of the Ancients, and Hovenweep National Monument, this landscape is an integral part of a contiguous cultural landscape that connects Chaco Canyon, Mesa Verde, Bears Ears, and beyond. 

Encompassing roughly 325,000 acres of public and state trust lands, the Lands Between holds a staggering number of cultural sites, though much of the landscape has not yet been surveyed by archaeologists. Bordering modern-day Nuche and Diné lands, the Lands Between is home to traditional plants and medicines still used today and holds more than a dozen Ancestral Puebloan community centers - some of the largest archaeological sites in Utah. Diné and Nuche structures and rock imagery speak to its many layers of history. Additionally, it has celebrated dark skies, critical wildlife corridors, and distinctive and uncommon paleontology. 

The Lands Between is currently the most archaeologically rich set of public lands in the United States open for oil and gas leasing. Between 2018 and 2019, the Trump Administration leased more than 100,000 acres of this landscape to oil and gas interests - with minimal input from Tribes and the public.

TLB Josh EwingPhoto by Josh Ewing.

Joining Forces to Protect TLB

In response to this urgent threat, in 2021 – with tremendous assistance from our pro bono legal counsel at Advocates for the West – BEP litigated the sale of the BLM’s March and December 2018 oil and gas lease sales in the Lands Between. In 2023, BEP favorably settled that litigation with the stipulation that the BLM will hold those parcels in suspension while they re-conduct the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA), National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and Endangered Species Act (ESA) analyses for all the lease parcels.

With support from Advocates for the West, BEP prepared and submitted a letter commenting on the NHPA and NEPA analysis, arguing that BLM should completely cancel all of the leases based on the potential for adverse effect to cultural resources. The Pueblo of Acoma also submitted a comment letter and took part in deep consultation with the BLM over those 2018 lease sales. Alongside supportive letters and participation by other invested Tribal and nonprofit partners, we believe this re-analysis was vital to the ultimate cancellation of these lease sales.

To read the BLM’s Record of Decision, click here. 

Support the Lands Between

While we are celebrating this profound win for the protection of the Lands Between, the work is not yet over. BEP is continuing to support the Pueblo of Acoma as they continue navigating the process associated with their protest of the 2019 lease sales in the Lands Between and monitoring other threats to the landscape including a more recent proposal to conduct large-scale potash mining in this sacred place. BEP will also continue to help facilitate research that will further illuminate the cultural significance of The Lands Between.

If you’d like to support these efforts, we encourage you to make a donation on our website: https://bearsearspartnership.org/donate-now

With any media inquiries or questions pertaining to the Lands Between, please contact BEP Policy Director, Carleton Bowekaty (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / 505.495.4216) or BEP Preservation Archaeologist, Kenny Wintch (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. / 801.386.3275). 

Media mentioNS

"Feds Cancel 25 Tump-era oil and gas leases in archaeology rich SE UT," Jonathan P. Thompson, The Land Desk