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Representative Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative (PLI), unveiled on July 14th after much delay, is the kind of pro-extraction, anti-federal legislation that could only come from a congressman with a lifetime score of 3% from the League of Conservation Voters.
Among myriad provisions that exacerbate climate change, promote the State of Utah’s land grab, and trivialize the Inter-Tribal Coalition’s Bears Ears proposal, one deficiency stands out above all else: the bill completely fails to adequately protect the nearly 4.4 million acres of remarkable wilderness-quality lands throughout southern and eastern Utah that are affected by this legislation. In doing so, the PLI removes existing wilderness management on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands and fails to protect 62% of inventoried lands that qualify for and deserve wilderness protection.
The PLI rolls back existing protections for over 100,000 acres of wilderness study areas (WSAs) and at least 70,000 acres of BLM-managed natural areas (i.e., areas managed by the BLM for the protection of wilderness values). Areas left with lesser or no protection, among many others, include the entirety of the Winter Ridge, Jack Canyon, and Squaw and Papoose WSAs, and significant portions of the Desolation Canyon, Dark Canyon, Grand Gulch, and Cheesebox Canyon WSAs. Managed natural areas around the San Rafael Reef—like Muddy Creek and Wild Horse Mesa—are also adversely impacted. In addition, the PLI completely fails to protect iconic Utah landscapes such as White Canyon (including most of its tributaries), Hatch Point, Price River, and the Mussentuchit Badlands as wilderness.
Setting aside the endless list of terrible PLI provisions, the bill is fundamentally unacceptable as it fails to protect the full spectrum of wilderness-quality lands in southern and eastern Utah. Simply put, if Rep. Bishop fixed every other provision of the bill tomorrow, it would still be a step backwards for Utah’s redrock wilderness.
SUWA will work tirelessly to ensure that the PLI meets the same doomed fate of previous public lands bills that paid little more than lip service to Utah’s remarkable public lands — but to accomplish this, we need your help. Please contact your congressional representative and tell them that the PLI is a pro-extraction, pro-development bill disguised as conservation legislation. Tell them that Utah’s wildlands deserve better.
After years of missed deadlines, Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) finally introduced his long-delayed Public Lands Initiative (PLI) yesterday. As anticipated, the PLI fails to protect Utah’s remarkable public lands and divests the American people of their public lands heritage. There is no chance this terrible bill could be passed in the few days left in this Congress, and it serves only as an effort to forestall President Obama from designating a Bears Ears National Monument.
Utah’s congressional delegation will no doubt repeat ad nauseam their talking point about 4.6 million acres of federal land “designated for conservation” in the PLI. Don’t believe it. The big acreages proffered by Rep. Bishop are disingenuous, as a hard look at the bill reveals that the PLI is a cobbled together mess that maximizes resource extraction and includes land “protections” riddled with loopholes.
A pro-development bill disguised as conservation
Among the laundry list of unacceptable provisions of the bill, the PLI:
• Fails to protect 62% of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act as designated wilderness and opens up currently protected lands, such as Wilderness Study Areas, to energy development and off-road vehicle use.
• Substitutes bastardized National Conservation Areas (NCAs) that enshrine the Bush-era management plans that designated thousands of miles of off-road vehicle routes; allows designation and development of new motorized trails; green-lights vegetation manipulation projects (such as pinyon-juniper clearcuts); mandates livestock grazing; declares that no more wilderness can be protected in these areas; and limits federal land managers’ ability to protect natural and cultural resources.
• Fails to protect over half a million acres of the Bears Ears region as proposed by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition; diminishes the Coalition’s voice in management of the reduced Bears Ears NCA by creating a 10-member advisory committee with only one tribal representative; promotes motorized recreation in this archaeologically rich region; allows grazing in currently closed areas like Grand Gulch, Fish, Owl, and Arch Canyons; and prohibits the agency from protecting hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness.
• Seizes authority from public land managers and instead gives the State of Utah control over the permitting and regulation of all forms of energy development on millions of acres of federal lands and, in doing so, likely eviscerates meaningful energy leasing reform such as the nearly completed Moab Master Leasing Plan.
• Codifies the abysmal Bush-era motorized travel plans in protected areas and prohibits future closures of any motorized route for natural or cultural resources concerns.
• Grants thousands of miles of claimed R.S. 2477 routes to the State of Utah while allowing for continued litigation over R.S. 2477 routes within areas designated as wilderness, NCAs, and Recreation Areas.
• Unleashes a carbon bomb by transferring large blocks of federal land to the State of Utah for tar sand, oil shale, potash, coal, oil, and gas development. These blocks are located in the remote Book Cliffs, in high-value scenic and recreation lands near the Green River west of Moab, on Hatch Point bordering Canyonlands National Park, near the world-renowned San Rafael Swell, and in the Uintah Basin.
• Permanently establishes livestock grazing as a priority across southern and eastern Utah and would result in both increased and new grazing in areas currently closed by federal land agencies due to natural and cultural resource damage.
• Furthers the State of Utah’s land grab efforts by transferring federal land to the state, without compensation, for facility development and increased motorized and non-motorized recreation.
• Rewards dangerous anti-government activity by granting a right-of-way for motorized access in Recapture Canyon, the site of San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman’s illegal 2014 ATV protest ride.
• Undermines the Antiquities Act by including a companion bill that would remove the president’s authority under the Antiquities Act to protect deserving landscapes in southern and eastern Utah.
Taken as a whole, the PLI is an assault on the wilderness of southern and eastern Utah.
Where do we go from here?
It’s time to move forward for the sake of Utah’s land, wildlife, and cultural resources. It’s time to call the PLI what it really is: one more failed attempt by Utah’s congressional delegation to develop a meaningful conservation bill for the national treasures of southern and eastern Utah. And, most importantly, it’s time for President Obama to use his authority under the Antiquities Act to designate the Bears Ears National Monument!
Today, Representative Rob Bishop introduced the Utah Public Lands Initiative (PLI). The proposed legislation fails to protect the imperiled cultural resources of Bears Ears, puts important natural and cultural resources at risk to rampant energy development, and undermines protection for priceless red rock Utah lands.
Four months ago, the Utah congressional delegation released a draft of their Public Lands Initiative (PLI), a proposal for 18 million acres of eastern Utah’s public lands.
This draft is the worst wilderness bill ever proposed by the Utah congressional delegation. It has been universally condemned by conservationists and Native American Tribes.
The Utah politicians have since refused to discuss their proposal with us. There is no small irony in this given that the delegation insists it is “seeking” public comment on this proposal.
As Representatives Bishop and Chaffetz blew by introduction deadlines, the PLI began to slouch from sight. One might have assumed the representatives were passively acknowledging that they had loaded this legislation with so many bad provisions it would never fly. The PLI seemed dead.
Utah politicians then shifted their focus from the PLI to attacking a coalition of Tribes for proposing the Bears Ears National Monument (which we endorse). Their new focus has become stopping this visionary proposal.
Now, Utah’s politicians threaten to pull the PLI from the grave in an effort to enlist it in their anti-Bears Ears efforts. Clearly, they are hoping to distract the White House from taking action on a new national monument.
But this zombie bill will fail for the same reasons as the original proposal and it should not serve as an excuse not to protect Bears Ears now.
We know that the PLI will not protect a significant number of the 5 million acres of wilderness-quality public lands in eastern Utah. In fact, it is likely to reduce already meager wilderness protections for public lands. We also know that the PLI will condemn hundreds of thousands of acres of public lands to energy zones and will further the State of Utah’s land grab by giving the State and its counties thousands of miles two-tracks, dirt trails, and cow paths as “highways” across public lands.
And now we know that the PLI will be used as an excuse to justify Utah politicians’ refusal to work with the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition to protect Bears Ears.
Any one of these elements makes the PLI nothing more than a Plundered Lands Initiative, fully deserving of reburial. Utah’s public lands simply deserve better. President Obama needs to act now to protect the Bears Ears—as requested by the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition—from looting and other ongoing threats to the region.
For Immediate Release
April 1, 2016
After three years of meetings and negotiations, Rep. Rob Bishop released a draft of his “grand bargain” Public Lands Initiative in January. This proposed legislation was intended to settle the land disputes in multiple Utah counties for good.
One of the stakeholders in the process, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), has now been recognized by Bishop with the “PLI Participation Award.”
“I wanted to make sure that SUWA was recognized for its valiant efforts to establish wilderness areas, even though I decided that there wouldn’t be any true wilderness in my bill,” said Bishop of the events leading up to the award. “They tried to make the PLI an actual conservation bill but I just wasn’t feeling it.”
SUWA’s Ray Bloxham, shown receiving the award from Rep. Bishop in the photo above, said “We did everything we could to ensure that wilderness-quality lands were protected, but all we got was this lousy plaque. And millions of acres of Energy Zones. And roll-backs of current protections. And a bunch of ridiculous RS 2477 claims. Need I go on?”
The award was presented in passing at the South Salt Lake Chipotle, a place that both SUWA and Rep. Bishop could agree on as neutral ground. “There’s no consolation prize like a big fat burrito,” said Bloxham.