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Blog

Our favorite stories about public lands and opportunities for you to get involved in protecting your outdoor experiences.

 

Time Is Running Out to Protect Eastern Utah

Tania Lown-Hecht

Photo credit: Mike A. Shaw

Photo credit: Mike A. Shaw

The future of one of the most iconic recreation destinations in the country has been the subject of an increasingly intense debate in the last few months. We’ve written before about various plans to protect and manage this region of the country, including leasing plans from the BLM, bills from Utah legislators, and a national monument proposal from a Native American coalition. One thing is clear: whether through Congress or through the White House, eastern Utah will most likely experience changes to its land management in the near future.

Right now, Utah legislators are working to pass legislation called the ‘Public Lands Initiative’ (PLI). The PLI is a bill that proposes some major revisions in how we care for and manage eastern Utah. These changes would affect recreation, Native American cultural sites, water and air quality, transportation and oil, gas and mineral development. However, as we approach the end of the year, it’s increasingly unlikely that Congress will be able to pass the PLI. This leaves the region vulnerable, and makes it more likely that the administration will act to protect the landscape by designating a national monument.

Outdoor Alliance and Access Fund submitted testimony on the revised version of the PLI this week—you can see the full letter here or by clicking at right. Since the “discussion draft” was issued several months ago, the PLI bill has improved in a few ways, including boundary adjustments at Bridger Jack Mesa, Mexican Mountain, and San Rafael Reef, as well as acknowledgements of recreation concerns in the Indian Creek National Conservation Area and some sections of Wild and Scenic Rivers.

However, the bill still has significant problems and provides insufficient protection for the Bears Ears area in particular, including:

  • Unbalanced management—the PLI proposes setting up a planning and implementation committee that does not represent the spectrum of users and interests. This means that the committee would be predisposed to favor development and resource extraction over other uses, resulting in the prioritization of industrial development over recreation and public access.
  • Conflicts with other management plans – the PLI creates conflicts with other management plans and management practices in place for the region, including the BLM’s very strong Moab Master Leasing Plan, which takes into account the climbing, mountain biking, and paddling in the region.
  • Public lands transfer – the PLI includes major land giveaways to the state of Utah that would affect recreation access, the environment, the integrity of viewsheds from adjacent National Parks, and quality of life in local communities. The proposed land exchanges are designed to give away tracts of land with enormous recreation and conservation value for development. The land transfers would negatively affect the Moab community as well as Indian Creek, which is among the most valuable rock climbing areas in the country.

Overall, the PLI does not adequately consider the voice of the human-powered recreation community and, for many areas that are highly-valuable to our community, favors development and resource extraction over conservation of the environment and protection of cultural and recreation resources. Perhaps most importantly, the bill would transfer vast tracts of public land and energy leasing authority to state control, which Outdoor Alliance cannot support.

 

More on Eastern Utah:

Eastern Utah includes world-class outdoor recreation opportunities, unique natural values and countless Native American cultural sites. While H.R. 5780 would provide protections for some portions of this exceptional landscape, it does not provide enough to protect recreation assets and these other important values for future generations. For climbers, eastern Utah contains some of the most iconic, unique and high quality opportunities in the world, including areas like Indian Creek, Castle Valley, Fisher Towers, San Rafael Swell, Valley of the Gods, Arch Canyons, Lockhart Basin, Comb Ridge, and thousands other climbing sites. A recent survey of over 1,000 climbers nationwide who travel regularly to this region found that our members and the national community value wild experiences, vast landscapes, undeveloped viewsheds, clean air, solitude, and cultural heritage. We want to protect southeast Utah for future generations because we know firsthand how valuable the area is to personal growth. Climbers—along with the greater outdoor recreation community—also contribute significantly to the economy of the region as evidenced by growing visitation levels and the Outdoor Industry Association’s report showing that in Utah alone outdoor recreation generates $12 billion in consumer spending, 122,00 direct jobs, $3.6 billion in wages and salaries, and $856 million in state and local tax revenue. As such, the Access Fund and Outdoor Alliance are committed to working with both the Congress and the Administration toward appropriate, durable protections for eastern Utah’s incredible public lands.