by Tim Peterson, Utah Wildlands Program Director
The 114th House of Representatives is history, taking its last votes of the year on December 8th. Unsurprisingly, Utah Republican Representative Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative (PLI) did not come up for a vote. With only a single House co-sponsor (Utah Republican Representative Jason Chaffetz), and without a Senate sponsor, the bill failed to gain much-needed support, even among anti-public lands loyalists.
Thanks to solid and wide-ranging opposition from Native American tribes, the conservation and recreation communities, and two of the Utah counties the bill purported to represent, the PLI’s threat to Native American sovereignty and Utah’s wild public lands is, for now, put to rest.
Bishop’s PLI would have transferred 100,000 acres of the Ute Tribe of Utah’s Uncompahgre Reservation to the state of Utah for fossil fuel development, diminished the voice of Native American tribes in management of the Bears Ears cultural landscape, encouraged rampant development of dirty fossil fuels and uranium, forever prohibited sensible management of livestock grazing, and handed over public lands and public roads to the state of Utah to further the state’s anti-public lands agenda.
When the concept of PLI was introduced in 2013, it offered great hope. Representative Bishop claimed the PLI sought “to build consensus” over which areas in eastern Utah should be preserved and which should be developed. We at the Grand Canyon Trust worked hard on PLI, but despite our best efforts at compromise, by mid-2015 it become clear that “consensus” was no longer Representative Bishop’s goal. What could have been a victory for all sides was undermined at every turn by the intransigence of anti-public lands politics.
But the possibility of a great gift awaits, in the form of permanent protection for the Bears Ears cultural landscape as a new national monument. We at the Grand Canyon Trust support the five tribes of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition and the more than 250 additional tribes of the National Congress of American Indians in advocating for their first-of-its-kind Bears Ears National Monument proposal, including collaborative federal and intertribal management.
“More than 224,000 Americans have signed petitions in support of Bears Ears National Monument,” Grand Canyon Trust Executive Director Bill Hedden points out. “Utah’s legislators in Congress have failed to find balance, and the job now rises to President Obama. We hope he acts swiftly to protect this great legacy for the land, and for all Americans.”