Representative Rob Bishop has released draft legislation for the public lands of eastern Utah. This legislation falls far short of protecting this world-class area. Its clumsy title states it is intended to “provide greater certainty,” but it only succeeds in this regard for fossil fuel development, road designation, and grazing. To make this draft bill worth passing, Bishop must fix the following four items:
1. Designate More Real Wilderness. While the numbers associated with this bill can sound impressive, they actually represent a reduction in lands currently managed for wilderness values. They are only a fraction of the lands that should be designated wilderness. Furthermore, Bishop is proposing a tortured version of “wilderness” that is a poor imitation of the real thing.
- More: Bishop must protect more land than he is now proposing. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) today treats roughly 1.8 million acres of public lands in this area effectively as if it were wilderness (as wilderness study areas and natural areas). Bishop’s bill would reduce this by over 100,000 acres. However, there are actually 4.4 million acres of worthy BLM public lands, as identified in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. Thus, Bishop is ignoring more than 60 percent of the land that should be protected as wilderness. Tell Bishop to protect all wilderness-quality land in this region.
- Real: Bishop’s bill includes unprecedented management language that offers scant protection. Under his vision, grazing would receive more protection in wilderness than it does on unprotected public lands. Vehicles could be allowed for invasive deforestation projects. These are just a few of the exceptions. Bishop has also tried to substitute motorized recreation “conservation areas” for wilderness. Under his bill, these areas designate extensive road networks and basically allow local counties to develop management standards. This is not real wilderness protection; the only certainty in these conservation areas is that roads cannot be closed and grazing is sacrosanct. Tell Bishop to protect wilderness according to standard Wilderness Act language.
2. Protect Bears Ears. Bishop’s legislation fails to permanently protect the proposed Bear Ears National Monument. A coalition of Native American tribes has proposed a 1.9 million acres monument in southeastern Utah. This area is America’s most significant unprotected cultural landscape and it has scenery to match its cultural treasures. Unfortunately, it has faced decades of looting and vandalism and off-road vehicle abuse. Bishop’s bill rejects this proposal and does little to address threats. In fact, his bill would litter this area with roads. It dismisses the tribes’ request for co-management of their ancestral homelands. It leaves lands vulnerable to the development of fossil fuels, uranium and potash. It also gives outsized management authority local county commissioners—including one commissioner recently convicted and sentenced to jail for leading an illegal off-road vehicle ride through a culturally-sensitive area. Tell Bishop to protect the Bears Ears National Monument as proposed by the tribes.
3. Give Up the Land Grab. Bishop explained that his bill compliments the State of Utah’s efforts to take away public land management; this legislation seeks to reduce the nation’s control over public lands. Tell Bishop to give up the land grab and strip out these offending provisions:
- Gifting the state possibly more than 12,000 miles of dirt roads, two tracks, and cow trails as “highways”, including up to 1,673 miles of “routes” in lands that should be designated wilderness. For decades the State has dreamed of this outcome. Creating fictitious roads across this region means no wilderness management and the gives the state and counties the ability to flaunt federal managers. This legislation would still allow the State and counties to proceed with litigation claiming ghost routes inside the wilderness it does designate.
- Handing land management over to county commissioners. In Bishop’s conservation areas he gives outsized influence to county commissioners to manage the land. So much, in fact, that the bill requires land managers to submit a report to Congress should they ever not follow the county commissioners’ demands.
- Giving the State control over 150,000 acres around Goblin Valley State Park.
- Transferring scattered low-market-value land from the state to the federal government in exchange for large consolidated blocks of high-market-value public land without ensuring a fair, equal value trade. This is typically referred to as a “scam.”
- Handing over 40,000 acres of land to the state and local governments for pet projects.
- Eliminating (via a placeholder in the draft legislation) the President’s authority to protect lands under the Antiquities Act (the power used to set aside the national monuments that later became Zion, Bryce, Capitol Reef, Arches, Grand Canyon, and Grand Teton national parks, to name just a few).
4. Eliminate Climate-Harming Gifts to the Fossil Fuel Industry. Bishop’s legislation is like a ticking carbon time bomb—it would seriously encourage the large scale development of fossil fuels. Bishop’s bill creates fossil fuel zones where intense resource extraction will be permanently encouraged. In fact, his bill designates more land for permanent fossil fuel development than for wilderness—almost 2.6 million acres. Bishop opens up wilderness study areas for coal, oil and gas, and even oil shale. He gives the state significant tracts of land for the purpose of intensive energy development. Bishop also gives the state a corridor for the Book Cliffs highway—or “tar sands highway”—an energy developer’s fantasy. Tell Bishop to think about future generations and stop facilitating this fossil foolishness.