Utah - Desolation Canyon

State: Utah
Region: Uinta Basin

The Green River flows through Utah’s Uinta Basin and then into Desolation Canyon. The pristine landscape surrounding the canyon is one of the largest roadless swaths of public land in the country. Parts of the area have been identified as having wilderness characteristics. Here you can find bald eagles, peregrine falcons and three endangered fish species. The canyon itself is a popular destination for whitewater float trips, with over 60,000 visitor days of use per year.

The area also sits above a large oil formation, making it a target for drilling. The region has had a history of attempts to balance uses of the land. Following an earlier drilling proposal on the nearby Tavaputs Plateau, a historic agreement in 2010 between Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Bill Barrett Corporation, reduced the number of proposed wells, and kept development out of Wilderness Study Areas while allowing the company to achieve its goal of developing natural resources.

In June, 2012 the Obama Administration approved a Gasco project, allowing nearly 1,300 oil and gas wells on over 200,000 acres. This new alternative, which wasn’t even considered in the original environmental analysis, increases the amount of drilling in wilderness quality areas far beyond even what was proposed by Gasco, putting over 200 wells in the Desolation Canyon proposed wilderness and gateway areas. If constructed, the wells will be located in the Uinta basin where current oil and gas operations have brought ozone pollution levels to some of the worst in the country.

In January of 2013, a coalition of conservation groups filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Salt Lake City challenging the Interior Department’s decision to allow the Gasco project.

In 2014, the Hill Creek Cultural Preservation and Energy Development Act was passed, exchanging 20,000 acres of Utah’s mineral rights from ecologically and culturally sensitive lands in the Desolation Canyon region of the Uintah and Ouray Reservation for federal mineral rights in another part of the reservation. The bill will protect ecologically critical and culturally sensitive lands while increasing revenue for Utah schools and native tribes.

From the air we can see an imperiled landscape that deserves protection and needs good collaborative management in order to get an outcome that all sides can agree on. EcoFlight will continue their involvement in this issue, providing the aerial perspective to raise awareness and inform the opinions of all those involved.

View our Virtual Tour of the Desolation Canyon region to learn more: