- Associated Press - Saturday, February 22, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - U.S. officials have dropped plans to sell energy leases in a popular Utah recreational area that’s renowned for its mountain biking trails.

The reversal by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management comes after local businesses, officials and Gov. Gary Herbert raised concerns about potential effects to the Slickrock Trail near Moab.

The two lease parcels would have covered about two-thirds of the 10.5-mile (17-kilometer) trail and been barely a mile (1.5 kilometers) from Arches National Park.

The 9,000-acre Sand Flats area that includes the trail is visited by 160,000 people a year, many of them drawn to the undulating, rocky trails that pose a challenge to mountain bikers.

The U.S. land agency co-manages the recreation area with Grand County, an arrangement in place since 1994.

Under President Donald Trump, the amount of acreage leased for oil and gas in Western states has been sharply increasing, raising concerns among conservationists about potential damage to the environment.

Bureau of Land Management officials said in a Friday announcement that local officials and businesses had raised legitimate issues about the proposed Sand Flat leases, which had been anonymously nominated for sale in November.

“Recreation access is a priority of ours - as well as responsible energy development - and both provide important economic benefits to Utah,” said land agency acting Canyon Country District Manager Brian Quigley. “As a resident, recreator and manager of public lands in Moab, I understand the public’s concerns.”

The Grand County council had raised concerns about effects on water supplies, and Herbert asked the agency to put off the sales.

Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus told The Salt Lake Tribune that the agency’s decision on the leases showed federal officials can be responsive to local needs, even if they don’t align with Trump’s pro-development agenda.

“Let’s celebrate this decision, because they are listening,” Niehaus said. “The state of Utah is doing a good job of balancing the economic implications of our public lands. This move says to me we have a partner in the governor’s office. We have a partner in the BLM.”

The Bureau of Land Management made a similar reversal in 2017 after the governor and Washington County officials objected to proposed leases outside Zion National Park.

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