Press Release: Joint Statement on Draft Public Lands Initiative

Jan 20th, 2016 Written by suwa

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance * Grand Canyon Trust * The Wilderness Society * Natural Resources Defense Council * Sierra Club

For Immediate Release
January 20, 2016

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). The proposed legislation released by Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz does not protect the world-renowned redrock scenery of the national public lands in Utah—including the spectacular Bears Ears cultural landscape—and instead imposes unprecedented and controversial proposals that would adversely affect wildlife, recreation, and watersheds in key areas across eastern Utah.

“The draft PLI is an un-wilderness bill,” explained Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Effectively, less wilderness would be protected in Utah if this bill passed than what is currently managed for the public. The wilderness it designates includes unprecedented loopholes and caveats, like enshrining grazing. This proposal does not do justice to these world-class landscapes.”

“The draft PLI weakens existing protections for important natural and cultural resources inside the proposed Bears Ears National Monument,” said Bill Hedden of the Grand Canyon Trust. “It neglects hundreds of thousands of acres of deserving wilderness and turns public lands over to county ownership that have already been subject to looting and grave robbing. San Juan County entirely dismissed local concerns by rejecting a home-grown proposal to fully protect Bears Ears —one that garnered 64% local support. San Juan also excluded everyone living outside the county in crafting their proposal; one which is a wholly inadequate substitute for a Bears Ears National Monument.”

“We are disappointed that after years of good faith effort to identify common ground with counties, conservation organizations, tribes, and others, the proposed bill neither honors important agreements that were forged during the PLI process nor offers a reasonable path forward on many issues of critical importance,” remarked The Wilderness Society’s Paul Spitler. “The draft PLI includes many controversial proposals that lack support and would damage scenic public lands in Utah.”

“This is really a fossil fuels bill,” observed Sharon Buccino, director of the land and wildlife program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “It opens up areas managed as wilderness for coal mining, tar sands, oil shale, and oil and gas and dedicates millions of acres to energy development.”

“The draft PLI substitutes easily-modified national conservation area designations for lands deserving and needing wilderness designation,” commented Wayne Hoskisson from the Sierra Club. “The draft PLI includes provisions that are incompatible with any real conservation efforts. The delegation is already attempting to undermine the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area in Washington County, created only seven years ago.”

We remain hopeful that all sides can find the political will to work together in counties where consensus among stakeholders is within reach. While we are disappointed that consensus compromise has failed here, we know that win-win solutions are possible which truly serve the best interests of future generations and Utah’s exceptional landscapes.