A sweeping lands plan for eastern Utah became proposed legislation on Thursday. Members of Utah’s congressional delegation introduce a pair of bills based on the Public Lands Initiative they’ve been working on for three years.
Utah Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz have included input from miners, ranchers and OHV enthusiasts about how to manage over 4 million acres. They’ve also conferred with conservation groups and Native American tribes concerned about protecting natural and cultural resources.
“I think what we see this morning,” says Casey Snider, an aide to Bishop who’s been working on the proposal, “represents another step in a process of bringing certainty and resolution to some very controversial and very beautiful landscapes in southeast Utah.”
Members of the San Juan County Commission praised the lands initiative during a meeting in Monticello Thursday with U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.
Meanwhile, environmental groups joined Native Americans in attacking the pair of bills for doing too little to conserve irreplaceable resources, like tens of thousands of archaeological sites scattered throughout San Juan County.
“I believe that this land should be left as it is, in its natural state,” says Navajo Mary Benally, a board member of Utah Dine Bikeyah. “There shouldn’t be any drilling. There shouldn’t be any mining. It’s just for us humans.”
A coalition of tribes and environmental groups have abandoned Bishop’s approach. They’re urging President Barack Obama to create a national monument that would put 1.9 million acres under federal control, coordinated with local tribes.
It may be that opponents have time on their side – or, really, a lack of it. That’s because the Bishop bills need to pass the House and the Senate, and lawmakers have less than forty days remaining in their congressional session.