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Rep. Bishop’s long-awaited draft Public Lands Initiative (PLI), released on January 20th, is essentially a fossil fuel development bill that gives away public resources and fails to advance the conservation of public lands in eastern Utah.
Unfortunately, the draft public lands initiative (PLI) released today, on January 20, does not advance the conservation of public lands in eastern Utah. It is lipstick on a pig and a Trojan Horse that will take conservation backwards.
For more than three years we have worked in good faith to reach a compromise on public lands issues in eastern Utah through the Public Lands Initiative (PLI).
Recently, newspaper stories and rumors have swirled around both a potential national monument in San Juan County, Utah, and Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative. Let me try and cut through the clutter to give you an idea where things currently stand.
First, the monument. A historic coalition of Native-American Tribes and Pueblos have come together to call for a Bears Ears National Monument or National Conservation Area in Utah. This proposal, which we fully support, encompasses 1.9 million acres of dense cultural artifacts, stunning redrock canyons and plateaus, and high-elevation forests. The tribal coalition recently met at Bears Ears with officials from the departments of Interior and Agriculture to discuss their proposal.
Second, the Public Lands Initiative. As you are likely aware, more than two years ago Rep. Rob Bishop announced his Public Lands Initiative as an effort to resolve public lands issues in Eastern Utah. We were impressed by Rep. Bishop’s willingness to undertake this difficult task and, in turn, we brought good faith and substantial resources to the table. We jumped into time-consuming discussions and dialogue with the Utah congressional delegation and the local counties.
However, the dialogue and effort has not been uniform. San Juan County, for example, has opted for a process that excludes participation from anyone outside the county. Despite the fact that the Public Lands Initiative has been around for more than two years, only this month did the county commissioners finally put forward their proposal. As you might guess, for a county that has chosen to avoid “external” dialogue, the proposal is terrible.
San Juan County leaves out deserving landscapes for protection (Hatch Point and White Canyon, above, to name a few of many), it asks for more land dedicated to energy development than it does for conservation, and it asks that the President’s authority to set aside national monuments be removed. In an act of pure chutzpah, it demands that Recapture Canyon be turned over to the county. Remember, current commissioner Phil Lyman was convicted of trespass and conspiracy for leading an illegal off-road vehicle ride down Recapture Canyon (which is closed to vehicle use in that part of the canyon).
San Juan County ignored the requests of the tribal coalition that it propose meaningful protection for the Bears Ears proposal. Ironically, it even ignored the majority of its own county respondents who asked for protections in this area (opens in PDF). And no surprise, it ignored our proposal (see comparison below).
This is where the national monument and PLI paths collide. In a move that would fail to surprise even the casual Utah political observer, the Utah governor and congressional delegation have recently opposed the designation of the Bears Ears National Monument. This opposition, though, is based on the potential for the Public Lands Initiative to resolve issues in San Juan County. Utah Governor Gary Herbert said that the Public Lands Initiative provides for “negotiation, compromise, and debate.” Unfortunately, those three factors have been completely absent from the discussion in San Juan County.
It is worth reiterating that San Juan County completely excluded participation from anyone outside its boundaries. Allowing only 0.005 percent of the nation’s population to determine the future of our public lands (and, in reality, ignoring most of its citizens’ input at the same time) will not lead to a good outcome.
We remain willing to engage in “negotiation, compromise, and debate.” It is the only way in which public lands issues will be fully resolved in San Juan County. We are anxiously awaiting details from Utah’s congressional delegation and governor as to how that will happen in San Juan County. Absent that, it is our fear that the Public Lands Initiative may become little more than an excuse to forestall a new national monument in Utah.
Bad news. The counties’ proposals for Representative Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative are in and they spell disaster for the future of Utah’s wild lands.
Please act now and tell Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz that the county plans are wholly inadequate. In order to be successful, any public lands legislation they draft must go far beyond what the counties have proposed.
More than two years ago, Rep. Bishop announced his desire to resolve longstanding disputes over public lands. He said that things would be different this time. In many ways they have been; we have seen some amazing goodwill and effort by the delegation. SUWA and its conservation partners jumped in with both feet and have spent hundreds of hours in the field and poring over maps.
However, not everyone got the message. Many of the counties involved in Rep. Bishop’s initiative have stymied real progress by taking a “business as usual” approach. They propose fragmented wilderness designation while rolling back existing wilderness study areas. Even their “conservation area” designations are often rendered meaningless because they are opened to oil and gas development and riddled with roads. Tellingly, some counties are proposing even less land protection now than they did two decades ago.
Some of the most spectacular wilderness landscapes in Utah are essentially forsaken (click here to view map). These forgotten areas include: Bitter Creek in the upper Book Cliffs; Desolation Canyon; Labyrinth Canyon; Lockhart Basin/Hatch Point east of Canyonlands National Park; White Canyon; Tables of the Sun (Nokai Dome/Red Rock Plateau); the Price River; and lands surrounding Dinosaur National Monument.
While county commissions, like all stakeholders, should have the opportunity to provide input in this process, they should not be the defining voice in determining the future of Utah’s public lands.
If the county proposals are advanced by the Utah delegation, it will mean a jigsaw puzzle of wilderness in Utah with more than half of the pieces missing. Vast reaches of undisturbed beauty that now define the redrock canyon country could be devastated by vehicle trails, energy development, and destructive “vegetation treatments.”
Utah’s wild lands deserve better.
To succeed, the Public Lands Initiative needs to provide meaningful protection for the now-forsaken areas and incorporate the concerns of citizens across Utah and America.
Please help save Wild Utah. Act now to tell Representatives Bishop and Chaffetz to do justice to Utah’s spectacular wild lands.