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!