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Lands Initiative Debuts To Mixed Reviews

Judy Fahys/KUER
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, speaks with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance Attorney David Garbett following a State Capitol news conference on the discussion draft of a comprehensive lands bill that some are calling "a Grand Bargain."

A comprehensive land-use proposal for eastern Utah made its public debut Wednesday -- three years after Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, began stitching together support in rural Utah between disparate user groups.

The congressman began his news conference on his public lands initiative by poking at critics who’ve maligned the seven-county management plan in advertisements. But then he promised to transform an outline that he said Utahns crafted in more than a thousand meetings into federal legislation.

“There’s something in this for everyone to like, and there’s something in this for everyone to hate,” Bishop said. “And if you really want to hate things, talk to us. We’ll show it to you. It’s in there. We’ve gone through this ourselves.  But I think if you look at the totality of what we’re doing, it is so positive. It is moving us so far forward.”

The proposal expands Arches National Park, conserves 4.3 million acres and creates a 90-mile ATV trail. It sets aside permanent energy development areas and swaps state acreage for prime federal land to maximize school trust revenues.

Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, will cosponsor the bill that’s ultimately drafted, and Utah Senator Mike Lee will carry legislation in the Senate.

Gov. Gary Herbert (R) praised the proposal for seeking an end to the lands controversy.

“There’s never been a bigger, better good-faith effort than by our congressmen and our senator in trying to find resolution of this,” he said at the news conference.

Meanwhile, environmental groups say Bishop’s initiative  undermines clean air and wildland protections, while allowing   state road claims across thousands of miles of wilderness.

“It, I think, could be better described as a fossil-fuel development bill that actually takes us back a step in wilderness management in the state,” said David Garbett, an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “And it furthers the state’s land-grab efforts.”

Proponents want to solidify support and get the bill before Congress in time to block the Obama administration from creating the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah. A national coalition of Native Americans has lobbied for it, but Bishop says local tribal members support his proposal.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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