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.