Plan for Utah’s public lands is a missed opportunity

Rep. Bishop's new plan is a missed opportunity to protect places like the Bears Ears region of Utah.

Credit: Mason Cummings.

A new plan released by Rep. Rob Bishop undermines bedrock laws, puts wildlands at risk and fails to find common ground with conservation.

The Public Lands Initiative (PLI) was released by Rep. Bishop, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and a frequent opponent of conservation, on Jan. 20. While recognizing the need to protect sensitive Utah landscapes like Bears Ears, it does not provide the protections necessary to safeguard Utah’s “red rock” country for future generations—and even contains controversial proposals that could damage public lands.

The plan is the result of a years-long effort to mediate land-use disputes in Utah by bringing together Native American tribes, county leaders, conservationists and other interests. In the past, The Wilderness Society and other conservation groups have been supportive of the idea behind the plan, but the final product released by Rep. Bishop is a missed opportunity.

Our statement on Rep. Bishop’s plan

“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,” said Paul Spitler, director of wilderness campaigns at The Wilderness Society, in a statement. “The draft PLI includes many controversial proposals that lack support and would damage scenic Utah lands.

Public Lands Initiative (PLI): The basics

The good

  • The plan recognizes that millions of acres of scenic public lands in Utah lands deserve permanent protection, including Desolation Canyon, Cedar Mesa, the San Rafael Swell, the High Uintas and the Book Cliffs.

The bad

  • The proposal would open millions of acres of public lands in Utah to unchecked energy development, while giving away thousands of miles of public roads.
  • The plan undermines proposed protections for the wilderness and other special areas by including language that carves gaping holes in those protections. This language means that these areas would not receive the protection they deserve.

The PLI process has demonstrated that there is some common ground we can build on (so to speak). We agree that wildlands in Utah contain unsurpassed beauty, recreational opportunities and wildlife habitat, and that they deserve to be permanently protected for future generations. However, an unbalanced plan, like the one offered by Rep. Bishop, will fail if it can’t secure the support of partners from across the spectrum.

Focusing on these areas of agreement is the way to arrive at a plan that works for everyone, and we will work toward that goal.