The Utah congressional delegation has announced it will release a draft lands bill on March 27th as part of the Public Lands Initiative (PLI). The PLI refers to discussions Representative Bishop initiated several years ago with the goal of resolving public land issues in eastern Utah, including designating wilderness and settling the State of Utah’s massive RS 2477 litigation. More than 6 million acres of wilderness are at stake, from Brown’s Park in the north down to Cedar Mesa in the south.
SUWA staff have traveled and spent considerable time in discussions trying to reach agreement with the delegation and counties, and we have appreciated open communications with the Utah congressional staff.
To date, there has been only one agreement reached between the delegation, the governor, wilderness advocates (including SUWA), and county officials. This agreement, affecting Daggett County in northeast Utah, was a net conservation gain and a landmark moment. It was announced in a ceremony at the state capitol last November, and we were proud to participate with Representative Bishop and Governor Herbert.
We hope to reach more such landmark agreements. We are in ongoing discussions with Uintah County, where much of the public land has been impacted by oil and gas development, but there remain critical wilderness landscapes such as Upper Desolation Canyon and the Bitter Creek complex that must be protected. We are also working with Summit County and are nearing an agreement that would expand the High Uintas Wilderness Area.
However, to date, there have been no Daggett County-type discussions in Emery, Grand, or San Juan counties — counties that include Desolation Canyon, the San Rafael Swell, Labyrinth Canyon, Indian Creek, White Canyon, Valley of the Gods, and some of the most spectacular wild landscapes on the planet. Carbon and Wayne counties dropped out of the process early on, and meaningful discussions have not taken place in either.
We remain ready and willing to continue dialogue with the delegation and governor in order to protect the redrock, although we’re a bit surprised that discussions are being short cut. We’ll let you know as soon as we receive a copy of the new proposal — like you, we’re very curious to see what the Utah delegation proposes. So stay tuned for March 27th.