Under Congressman Rob Bishop’s (Republican – Utah CD 1) much anticipated public lands initiative, 24 percent of the total 18 million acres of land involved within the bill is designated for protection or conservation in Utah.
With a final draft due sometime in the next two weeks, Bishop rolled-out the intent language in a draft that is currently available online at UtahPLI.com.
As Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Bishop, along with co-sponsor, Congressman Jason Chaffetz (Republican – Utah CD 3), have worked on the initiative since February of 2013 and indicate that they have conducted more than 1,200 official meetings with stakeholders to bring the discussions to a point where legislation can be considered. In a press conference held Wednesday, Bishop stated that Senator Mike Lee will be signing on as the bill’s Senate sponsor.
During the announcement, Bishop was flanked by Chaffetz, Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert and the Governor’s Energy Development Advisor, Cody Stewart, a former oil and gas lobbyist.
Herbert praised the effort, saying that “this is an opportunity that we have to manage our own lands. The use of public lands has been a fight here in Utah for a hundred years.”
The amount and use of public lands in the west have been front-and-center for many policy makers – even before the militant occupancy of the Malheur National Bird Sanctuary in Oregon. While Utah’s Governor was hailing Bishop and Chaffetz’s work, Oregon’s Governor Kate Brown (Democrat) was calling for the federal government’s action to maintain law and order as the armed standoff near Burns in eastern Oregon approaches its third week.
Ultimately, the biggest problem that the Utah initiative may have was symbolized by the lack of diversity in the Utah Capitol’s Gold Room during the announcement.
Of the more than thirty people assembled there, not one person of color was present. When asked why there was no mention of indigenous people and their concerns in this discussion today, Congressman Bishop balked, calling anyone who would question his committee’s effort, “disingenuous.”
The question refers to the negotiation failure over the Bears Ears area of northeastern Utah, where four western Native American tribes called for a national monument designation in an area deemed sacred land.
Unlike the announcement made in Utah over a previous agreement with Anadarko Petroleum and a coalition of stakeholders on the Greater Natural Buttes natural gas lease, tribal leaders and other critics have accused Bishop and the other bill sponsors of being unresponsive. The tribal coalition has now indicated that they will seek a National Monument designation from President Obama’s authority under the Antiquities Act.
Bishop had described the success of the lengthy discussions as being one where no one interested is completely satisfied. “There’s something in this for everyone to like, and there’s something in this for everyone to hate,” he said.
When asked to describe something that he personally hates about the current version of the initiative, Bishop immediately referred to the protections afforded to the 23 percent of the area involved. “I hate wilderness designations,” he admitted.