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Conservation Groups Slam Utah Public Lands Initiative

A controversial draft bill called the Utah Public Lands Initiative would protect part of the Bear's Ears region but would not make it a national monument as tribes have requested. (Credit: Josh Ewing)

A controversial draft bill called the Utah Public Lands Initiative would protect part of the Bear's Ears region but would not make it a national monument as tribes have requested. (Credit: Josh Ewing)
January 21, 2016

SALT LAKE CITY - Conservation groups are slamming a draft bill called the Utah Public Land Initiative, released Wednesday by Utah Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz.

The bill would rewrite the rules covering 18 million acres of federal public land in seven counties in eastern Utah. Aaron Weiss, media director with the Center for Western Priorities, says the bill's wilderness designations are packed with loopholes that would pave the way for more development.

"At the end of the day, Rob Bishop picked winners and losers," says Weiss. "And the winners are the oil and gas companies and the Bundy land-seizure agenda, and the losers are the people of Utah and Utah's public lands."

Bishop has said the bill is needed to protect some areas while providing more certainty for commercial ventures in others. But a coalition of conservation groups put out a statement criticizing the plan, saying it would permit drilling next to protected areas, allow permanent grazing, encourage ATV use on areas that are currently roadless and release wilderness study areas for development.

The legislation, when introduced, also is expected to bar the president from using the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments in that part of Utah - an end run around the tribes that want to establish the Bears Ears National Monument. David Jenkins, president with the nonprofit group Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, warns this bill has national implications.

"It's his model legislation that he would like to replicate as a way to handle public lands nationwide," says Jenkins. "And in our mind, this completely turns on its head the entire conservation and stewardship ethic that we've seen since the days of Theodore Roosevelt in this country."

Bishop, who chairs the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, has not indicated when he plans to actually introduce the bill in Congress.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - UT