Moab, Utah is a mecca for outdoor recreation. Besides being home to Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park, it has world-famous mountain biking, rock climbing, whitewater paddling, hiking, and backpacking. The region also has several historic and cultural landmarks as well as the potential for significant extractive development, including oil, gas, and potash. Several years ago, a proposal for the Greater Canyonlands National Monument started a conversation about how best to manage the larger Moab region. Many local elected officials became more supportive of the idea of federal legislation to protect the region, but continue to express concerns about the path to stronger protections. Today, there are many questions regarding the best way to protect the valuable recreation, natural and cultural resources of the Moab area.
Recently, an inter-Tribal coalition has proposed a 1.9 million acre monument, Bears Ears National Monument, to protect the areas cultural resources and significant value to Tribal communities. The coalition is asking the Obama administration to use the Antiquities Act to designate the proposed monument if Congress cannot legislate similar protection.
Congressman Rob Bishop (R-UT) has been working on a large public lands bill for the past 3 years that he has been calling the “Grand Bargain” (the official name of the process is the Public Lands Initiative, or PLI). Although the PLI is long overdue (and the pressure is on due to the Bears Ears National Monument proposal), it is expected to include 7 counties in Eastern Utah, spanning from the Wyoming border to Arizona. The proposal is likely to involve a huge amount of recreational resources, possibly more than any single public lands bill ever. Here’s what we know about the potential bill, who’s involved, and how the human-powered outdoor community can get engaged to share their voice about how they’d like to see Moab’s outdoor resources protected.
Who’s Involved in Developing the Bill?
Numerous stakeholders (both local and national) have been actively involved in the PLI for the past few years, including:
- Recreation Organizations, both motorized and non-motorized
- Conservation Organizations
- The Outdoor Industry
- Resource Extraction Industry
- Utah State, including the Governor’s Office and State Institutional Trust Land Administration
- Tribal Coalitions
- Sagebrush Coalition
What kind of designations could be included?
Designations are basically labels that apply certain land management prescriptions to a particular piece of existing public land. The Public Lands Initiative is a package that considers a wide range of new designations for the region, which could include:
- Expanding National Parks
- Converting some Wilderness Study Areas into Wilderness (which has stronger protection against development), and designating additional areas as Wilderness
- Wild and Scenic River (the best way to protect rivers, and important to paddlers)
- Exchanging some land with states, in order to consolidate “energy zones” for development
- National Recreation Areas
- Classifying some travel management rules and potentially decommissioning roads
What about the Moab Master Leasing Plan?
If the Public Lands Initiative wasn’t complicated enough, a related effort to update land management is happening for BLM land in Moab (here’s what we wrote about it in August). The Master Leasing Plan determines which areas are suitable for oil, gas and potash development. It covers a region that includes recreation gems like Indian Creek, Gemini Bridges, Lockhart Basin, and portions of the Green and Colorado Rivers. While this Master Leasing Plan affects a smaller region than the Public Lands Initiative, it includes many important recreation resources. In addition, the process for finalizing a Master Leasing Plan is more straightforward than the process for passing Rep. Bishop’s potential PLI bill.
What’s happening next?
The BLM released the Moab Master Leasing plan in August and Outdoor Alliance has submitted comments on the plan.
The Public Lands Initiative is allegedly continuing to progress. Rep. Bishop has asked for feedback from all of the 7 counties involved in the bill, and most of them have now presented their proposals (for example, see proposals from Grand, Emery, and San Juan counties). While there is still some work happening locally in Utah on the bill, most of the remaining negotiations are happening in DC with Congressional offices and committees, as well as with the administration, which may still be interested in protecting the region as a National Monument if Rep. Bishop’s legislation fails to pass.
Given that all three initiatives—Rep. Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative, BLM’s Master Leasing Plan, and the potential for the Bears Ears National Monument—affect a tremendous number of recreation resources, Outdoor Alliance will be working hard to track each process and ensure that the outdoor community has the opportunity to learn about, engage with, and comment on the process.