On March 2nd, over 600 Utahns poured into a “Citizens’ Hearing” in Salt Lake City on Utah Representative Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative (PLI), packing a huge auditorium, lining the walls, and standing shoulder to shoulder a dozen deep in the back of the room. More people spilled out into the auditorium’s entryway.
The hearing was organized by the Utah Wilderness Coalition because Utah Reps. Bishop and Chaffetz have failed to provide residents living along Utah’s Wasatch Front a meaningful opportunity to help shape the PLI.
With palpable passion and often a strong sense of frustration, speaker after speaker decried the PLI as a disaster for Utah’s public lands and called on President Obama to proclaim a Bears Ears National Monument as proposed by a historic coalition of Native American tribes.
Some gestured or spoke to the four empty chairs on the stage that were labeled with the names of Utah’s congressional delegation, insisting that their voices be heard. (The Utah delegation was invited but did not attend the hearing. The governor’s policy director, who did attend part of the hearing, received an appreciative round of applause when his presence was announced.)
Again and again, the spirited crowd – which spanned millennials to elders – burst into applause and waved “Protect Wild Utah” signs in support of protecting Utah’s wild lands from fossil fuel development, bogus roads, and other public land giveaways in the PLI.
SUWA deeply thanks everyone who showed up and with their presence and/or their voice stood against the PLI and for the Bears Ears national monument. You are amazing and inspiring! Working together, we have a great chance of defeating the PLI and winning protection for Bears Ears.
We apologize to those who couldn’t get a seat, but we hope it’s some consolation to know that the overflow crowd clearly demonstrated just how much Utahns care about our wild places (and next time we’ll get a bigger room!).
Some highlights of the evening include:
Scott Groene, Executive Director for SUWA, described the PLI as “the worst wilderness bill since the Wilderness Act created the opportunity to protect wild lands in 1964.” He went on to say “The PLI provides less protection for Utah’s wildlands than we have now, fails to protect the Bears Ears, sets off a ticking carbon time bomb, and facilitates the state of Utah’s efforts seize public lands that belong to all of us.”
In a letter read to the audience by Katie Savage, Terry Tempest Williams said, “Today we find ourselves in a ‘perfect storm’ of ecological and social consciousness where the protection of wilderness is the protection of the climate. . . Congressman Bishop cannot hear the will of the people . . . Our voices must be amplified again, so that other voices around the country can join us in the reject of this violent initiative on the integrity of America’s Redrock Wilderness.”
Mark Maryboy, speaking for Utah Diné Bikéyah, described how the Utah delegation refused to seriously engage with Native Americans seeking protection for the Bears Ears. “We must not allow the PLI to pass,” said Maryboy. “We must stand together to defeat it.”
Former Utah Congresswoman Karen Shepherd rallied the crowd to stop the PLI, declaring “The real story is you. Look at you! You are everywhere! You can change the world.”
Describing Utah’s wildlands as “absolutely integral to the state’s economic future,” Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf said ““We must send a clear, powerful message that the people of Utah see the PLI for what it is: a Pearl Harbor attack on the economic vibrancy of Utah.”
Juan Palma, former Utah state director of the Bureau of Land Management, and now chief conservation officer for HECHO, “Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting, and the Outdoors,” described the deep roots Hispanics have with public lands, noting “No one came to talk to us” about the PLI.
Lauren Wood, a third generation guide for Holiday River Expeditions and an activist for climate justice, social equality and human rights, decried the PLI as a fossil fuel development bill that “puts the earth’s livable climate on the chopping block.” “The only winners in the PLI,” she said, “are the oil companies who are hell bent on taking our public lands from the public.”
Laying out a list of grievances, Sierra Club spokesperson Amy Mills pointed out that “Utah Rep Rob Bishop asserts that the PLI is a balanced solution that was locally driven, but the truth is, it is neither.”
Di Allison with Great Old Broads for Wilderness announced “we have a gift for Rep Bishop,” and unwrapping a small gift box, revealed a green hearing aide. Holding up photos of her grandchildren, she said “Utah’s public wild lands are their American heritage. The myopic perspective of the PLI does not serve them. We can do better than this by protecting the Bears Ears as a national monument.”
Marcel Gaztambide, speaking for Uplift, a climate action group for the Colorado Plateau, said “The youth of the Colorado Plateau will not accept the loss of wilderness at this scale. We refuse a rollback on wilderness protection, we refuse lax air quality standards, we refuse the creation of vast fossil fuel zones, we refuse the creation of unnecessary and unwanted roadways, and we refuse the endangerment of the region’s biodiversity.”
Eyrie Horton, a student at Utah’s Westminster College, stated “The PLI is basically stealing our land. It fosters an economy based on pulling fossil fuels out of the ground. I can tell you that that is not going to fly with my generation.”
Jared Meek, speaking for the EcoResponse Club at Brigham Young University, said “many students had been paying attention to the PLI process and to put it lightly we are not pleased with the current proposal. . . . At BYU, we believe that the Earth has been entrusted to humankind to care for, and that we have a sacred stewardship to conserve and preserve our beautiful home for future generations. After all it is we, the younger generation of this state, that will have to live with the choices of those currently in political office.”
Darren Bingham, speaking for several organizations at Utah State University, said “Our hearts lie in wilderness. If the PLI goes through, our children (which I don’t expect to have), will be the losers because our wild places will be largely gone. We need to stop giving away public lands to development interests and give them back to the people who were here thousands of years ago.”
Speaking on behalf of Faith and the Land, Dede Carpenter explained that many people of faith “are aligned” with the Tribes’ call for a Bears Ears monument, as the PLI “would leave us nothing but remnants of the beauty that connects us spiritually to something higher than our individual selves.”
Ann Whittaker, who described herself as “the granddaughter of a World War Two veteran who found salvation and atonement in the public lands” asked “where is the reverence, where is the respect for heritage and posterity in legislation that is written to bring money to a few?”
Cinimin Kofford, a student from Provo attending Utah Valley University said that “As a student, we have the unique responsibility to protect and preserve our public lands, rather than see them traded away for fossil fuel development. And as an outdoor recreation professional, I want access to public lands for my generation, and for many to come.” Both of these concerns have been “overlooked in the PLI.”