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UPDATED: Draft Of "Grand Bargain" For Utah Public Lands Draws Attacks


A public lands bill being proposed by Utah's congressional delegation would add more than 19,000 acres to Arches National Park if passed by Congress

Editor's note: This updates throughout with details from the unveiling of the legislation in Salt Lake City on Wednesday.

Legislation that addresses the use of 18 million acres of public lands in Utah contains "something for everyone to like, and something for everyone to hate," U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop said Wednesday while publicly releasing the 65-page measure he believes can gain congressional passage this year.

Flanked by U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Utah Gov. Gary Herbert during a short press conference in the Utah Capitol, Bishop, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, dismissed criticisms broadcast this week by environmental groups whom he said were working off old drafts of the bill. The current version, he said, achieves four key goals: It delivers conservation of public lands "in areas that deserve conservation status;" opens up areas for economic development; guarantees recreation, and; provides certainty that should bring an end to what the Utah Republican called "constant litigation and dogmatic battles."

According to the congressmen, the measure calls for protection or conservation of 4.3 million acres in the state; would provide 1.05 million acres "for new recreation and economic development opportunities;" calls for protection of 301 river miles under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act; would add 19,255 acres to Arches National Park; would creates the 897-acre Jurassic Age National Monument around the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in Emery County, and; would consolidate 336,441 acres for the state School and Institutonal Trust Lands Administration, which generates revenues from acreage within the state to support education.

"This is a true effort to bring together disparate groups," said Congressman Chaffetz, who added a "shame on them" for radical environmental groups who said the bill was dead on arrival. 

Gov. Herbert said the legislation represented the "fourth largest conservation bill in history," calling it "heavy lifting, but great work."

"There's a lot of good things in there," the governor said, saying the measure shouldn't be criticized because it doesn't provide every special interest group with everything they wanted.

On Tuesday the Center for Western Priorities was quick to criticize the legislation, saying it provided weak protections for proposed wilderness areas, provided  "giveaways" to energy interests, and carried the potential to open up roadless areas in national parks and monuments.

"The draft Public Lands Initiative bill is an extreme and deceptive attack on our nation’s public lands that does little for conservation," the group said, referring to a Jan. 8 draft it had obtained. "The legislation is another ideological vehicle for Congressman Bishop to express his disdain for national public lands, rather than a true attempt at addressing diverse stakeholder needs."

Called the Utah Public Lands Initiative, the draft bill calls for creation of 41 wilderness areas, a dozen National Conservation Areas, and a 42,352-acre Books Cliffs Sportsmens National Conservation Area with a specific goal of encouraging hunting and fishing and to management wildlife habitat. Maps associated with the legislation can be found here.

While Native American tribes had wanted to see the legislation create a Bears Ears National Monument across nearly 2 million acres in southeastern Utah, the congressmen instead are proposing a 1.2-million-acre Bears Ears National Conservation Area. Additionally, they call for a four-person commission to advise the Interior secretary on managing the conservation area, with two of the four representing the state of Utah and the San Juan County Commission. The legislation specifically prohibits a federal employee from being named to the commission.

"It'd be just a crying shame if there was just a national monument designation," said Rep. Chaffetz, saying such a designation would greatly limit what activities could be conducted.

"Bears Ears is a huge swath of land," said the congressman, adding that he "takes great exception that we haven't heard Native Americans' wishes. ... Bears Ears was dealt with in a very responsible matter."

To demonstrate that there are provisions in the legislation that won't be welcome by all, Rep. Bishop noted that he was "never a fan of creating more wilderness in the first place."

"This is not what I would have done individually," he added.

At the Interior Department, officials said they looked forward to reviewing the measure and hearing what stakeholders had to say about it.

"There’s no doubt that southeastern Utah’s incredible natural and cultural resources are deserving of real protection and recognition, and we appreciate Congressmen Bishop and Chaffetz’s work to lead a conversation on this topic. Given the real risks these resources face, we share a sense of urgency to protect these special places for current and future generations," said DOI spokeswoman Jessica Kershaw. "It’s important that any proposal include meaningful conservation – both in name and practice – and that the land-management provisions do not roll back critical stewardship tools and authorities, such as the Antiquities Act. We remain concerned by the assertion from Tribes that their voices are not reflected in this proposal regarding their ancestral lands.

"While we don't provide official positions on discussion drafts such as this, we look forward to reviewing the details and hearing from the people of Utah, Tribes and other stakeholders in shaping a balanced vision for the future of these public lands."

National Park Service officials were not immediately available to comment Wednesday on the bill's provisions. Representatives for the National Parks Conservation Association were reviewing the legislation and had no immediate comment.

The legislation also would require the U.S. Department of Energy, which is spending upwards of $1 billion to clean up uranium tailings from a 480-acre site along the Colorado River at Moab, to transfer the land free of charge to Grand County once the job is done, which is expected around 2025.

The Center for Western Priorities took exception to how the proposed wilderness areas would be managed, noting that the draft legislation would allow grazing to continue in them, that they could not carry a Class I airshed designation, and that other lands in Utah that had been studied for potential wilderness designation would be "released" from such consideration.

It also was critical of the approach the draft legislation takes towards off-road vehicles, saying, "(T)he bill would open thousands of miles of dirt trails to motorized vehicles in eastern Utah, paving  the way for vehicles to crisscross national monuments, national parks, and other conservation areas. As written, any county covered by the legislation could claim an historical right-of-way under an old law from 1866 called 'Revised Statute 2477' and those 'right-of-ways' would be opened to motorized traffic."

The draft does propose to designate various stretches of the Colorado, Dolores, Green, Dark Canyon, and San Juan rivers under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. It also would require the Bureau of Land Management, "without consideration," to transfer nearly 10,000 acres of land it manages to the state of Utah for addition to Goblin Valley State Park. Another land transfer from the BLM to the state would help create the Price Canyon State Forest, the first state forest in Utah.

Another 21 land conveyances from the federal government to the state of Utah, without any consideration in return, also are called for by the legislation. Those range from just 1 acre at the resort town of Park City to 15,379 acres at the Dugout Ranch northwest of Monticello to Utah State University.


I attended the meeting at the Capitol this morning.  Simply listening to Bishop and Chafetz, the whole thing sounded wonderful.  Then some people started asking questions and Bishop responded with some attacks on "environmentalists."  He specifically pointed a claim that "some of them have been using an old draft version of the bill" and that their concerns were not valid because the don't have the latest version. 

No paper copies of the bill were available at the session, so it will be necessary to find one online.  Bishop and Chafetz both refered to a website where "complete information" can be found.  I haven't had a chance to check into that yet, but expect it be a sales pitch for the bill.  Right now, I don't know whether or not it presents a fairly balanced picture -- but I'll bet it will be about what one might expect in a brochure for a new car.

Although parts of this might contain some really good stuff, it will necessary to get into the bill itself and carefully examine it for hidden booby traps.

The website, which is also supposed to contain a full copy of the bill, is:

Anyone interested in the subject needs to look carefully into the website.  But keep a salt shaker handy.

Thanks for the info, Lee.  I know the tiny small parcel at the south of Arches.  Do you know what would be protected in the other two?

Not yet, Bob.  I haven't had a chance to look at the website yet.  But just noticed that Kurt (who I had the pleasure of meeting for the first time at the press conference) has added a map to the top of this article.

Chafetz mentioned that the addition east of the park is to protect the viewshed behind Delicate Arch and said (without any explanation) that the addition to the north "might help alleviate some of the overcrowding the park has been experiencing."  Not sure what he meant by that.  Huge parking lot perhaps?

Was there any comment or response from the tribes?

As far as I could tell, there were no tribal representatives present.  It was mostly press and a very small number of ordinary citizens. But one of the Congressmen commented that it had been very difficult to work with the tribes because they seemed to be quite divided and fragmented on how they wanted to try to deal with all this.  When one person asked about tribal involvement, Bishop lashed out at him.  I got the distinct impression that the two had some history of conflict from the past.  Bishop tends to become very aggresively defensive when challenged.

Kurt was there, and I'm looking forward to what he will write.  He interviewed both Bishop and Chaffetz after the meeting.

The draft bill is 65 pages.  I just finished printing it and will use it to help me fall asleep tonight.

Without even reading it, one can be sure that ii is a sell out to energy industry.  Otherwise, Bishop would not be involved.

Well, Rick, I just started reading and have gotten only as far as page 9, Section 103 WILDERNESS ADMINISTRATION. 

Here's a sample of some of it:

Section 103 (c) WILDFIRE MANAGEMENT OPERATIONS - Nothing in this section precludes a Federal, State, or local agency from conducting wildfire management operations (including operations using aircraft or machanized equipment).

Section 103 (d) LIVESTOCK

(1) IN GENERAL -- Within the wilderness areas, the grazing of livestock which is established . . . shall continue in accordance with the grazin permit that existed on January 1, 2016.

(2) PROTECTION OF EXISTING USES  - Existing livestock grazing shall continue . . . (A) There shall be no curtailments of grazing in wilderness areas simply because an area is, or has been designated as wilderness, nor should wilderness designation be used as an excuse for administrators to slowly "phase out" grazing.  

Section B allows for increasing grazing "if range condition . . . . determne that increased livestock numbers can be made . . .with no adverse impact.  [But there is nothing mentioned about decreasing use if needed]

Section C states that maintenance of supporting facilities in an area prior to classification as wilderness shall continue. "Such maintenance shall include the use of motorized and/or machanized tools . . . where . . . is the most reasonable means . . . "

Section D says "the construction of new improvements or replacement of deteriorated facilities in wilderness is permissible."

I haven't gotten to the part about energy. It's very interesting to note that the table of contents appears to be just a bit vague.  Maybe in hopes that if it's not mentioned there, no one will look for it????

I'm thinking that everyone interested in this needs to fire up their printer and start reading carefully for themselves.

And in fairness to all, Bishop repeated a couple of times, "There are things in this that everyone will love; and things everyone will hate."  The word COMPROMISE was used frequently.

Utah newspapers wasted no time getting some articles into print.  Here are two from Salt Lake Tribune:

And from the more conservative Deseret News:

This is a collection of photos taken without much information directly from the bill's website.

The next link is to an article published in Des News earlier this week:

Reading the bill itself is difficult.  There are parts that seem to contradict other parts.  To complete layman, like me, some of it is confusing.  I'm almost finished reading it, but will need to depend upon translation of some parts by someone with greater legal expertise than I possess.

Other parts are very, very clear.  On page 63 we read:


(a) In General - To promote domestic energy production and job creating in eastern Utah, lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and identified on January 1, 2016 as being open with standared stipulations to oil, gas, oil shale, binuminous sands, wind, solar, geothermal, potash, coal, uranium and other locatagle and saleable minerals, with the covered lands of this Act, shall be managed for the production of energy and mineral resources as the highest management priority and shall be developed under the following requirements:

(this is followed by 9 conditions including such things as):

(b) The Secretary of the Interior shall not infringe upon lease rights on the lands . . . by idefinitely delaying issuance of project approvals, drilling and seismic permits, and rights of way for activities under such a lease.

(e) The Secretary . . . shall not cancel or withdraw any energy or mineral lease parcel after a competitive lease sale has occured and a winning bidder has submitted the last payment for the parcel.

(g) No additional lease stupulations may be added after the parcel is sold without consulation and agreement of the lessee.

(i) Limitation on lease restrictions for wildlife shall pertain only to specific wildlife laws.


Nothing in this title precludes leasing or recourse development on BLM managed lands . . . . from occurring under regular order pursuant to the Mineral Leasong Act or other federal energy development laws.

Title XII - Long-Term Travel Management Certainty

Section 1201 Rights-of-Way for Certain Roads

Subject to valid existing rights and consitent with the section, the Secretary of the Interior shall grant a right-of-way to the state for poublic travel and access upon the following roads:

(1) all roads claimed as Class B . . . . in Uintah, Summit, Duchesene . . . . (and the other counties involved)

(C) ADMINISTRATION Each right-of way granted by the Secretary . . . . shall be perpetual and shall consist of the full geographic extent authorized by Utah state law in effect January 1, 2016

Finally, on page 65, we come to TITLE XIII - Long Term Land Use Certainty

The remainder of the page is BLANK.  This, I understand, is the section that will be added later to prohibit any present or future President of the United States from using the Antiquities Act to declare any land in any of these eastern Utah counties as national monuments.  (See the Tribune article)  Then we have to remember that all of this is subject to amendment back in Congress.

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