Co-authored by Louis Geltman and Erik Murdock, Policy Director at Access Fund
Today, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, released the long awaited product of his Utah “Public Lands Initiative” (PLI) process, and the results are a disappointment for those of us who enjoy outdoor recreation on American public lands in Utah.
Public lands in Eastern Utah—the area covered by the PLI—contain an incredible diversity of some of the most iconic areas in the world for climbers, mountain bikers, paddlers, and myriad other outdoor recreationists. Areas that would be affected by the PLI include the world-famous Indian Creek climbing area; the San Rafael Swell; sections of the Dolores, Green, and Colorado Rivers; and countless miles of iconic single track mountain biking around the Moab area.
Despite the quality, prominence, and economic impact of these areas, the PLI gives scant attention to these resources. In marked contrast, the proposal directs extensive attention to energy development, grazing, motorized use, and shooting sports. The proposal contrasts poorly with the recently released BLM proposal for a Moab-area Master Leasing Plan (MLP), a promising development that would be overridden by the PLI. Unlike the PLI, the Moab MLP recognizes the importance of the landscape for outdoor recreation opportunities, specifically takes into account important recreational resources, and appropriately considers the prominent role of the outdoor recreation economy.
The PLI proposal would undercut established conservation tools on a number of fronts: it would freeze grazing levels without regard to science-based management and community input; it would bar the application of Clean Air Act requirements to protect health and viewsheds; and it would prevent land managers from purchasing land from willing sellers. Finally, the PLI does not thoughtfully protect cultural values and sites.
Eastern Utah’s public lands have tremendous significance to outdoor recreationists across the country. We admire the scope of the PLI, which addresses many acres and river miles worthy of serious protection. We recognize that the PLI is a draft bill and hope that future versions will remedy the shortcomings to ensure that conservation measures better reflect the importance of this landscape.