Friday, July 15, 2016

Bears Ears debate at center of proposed ac

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, introduced a measure today that, if passed, will determine how a large portion of public land in southeast Utah will be managed. The bill, known as the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act, is the result of three years of work, including multiple meetings with stakeholder organizations. Utah officials created a locally driven effort known as Public Lands Initiative to gather comments and review proposals for land management. The bill would designate more than 4.5 million acres of federal land in Utah for conservation. Andrew Reynolds, who represented the Pew Charitable Trusts — which works to conserve public lands — in the discussions with the Public Lands Initiative, said the bill would give "permanent gold standard protection" in the form of wilderness and conservation areas "for some really amazing landscapes." At the same time, the bill also paves the way for Utah to exchange state-owned land in eastern Utah that has environmentally and archaeologically sensitive sites for federal land that could be developed as state trust land. State trust land is used for extraction of oil, gas and minerals, as well as agriculture, timber, recreation and commercial development. Some of the land included in the proposal is also located within a region that several groups have petitioned President Barack Obama to designate as the Bears Ears National Monument. A coalition of five tribes known as the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition has been spearheading the national monument movement for the area. Regina Lopez-Whiteskunk, the co-chair of the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, said she thinks the bill was introduced too late in the session for something to be passed that provides adequate protection for the region. She said the coalition will continue to ask the president to create the national monument. Reynolds said if the bill does not move through Congress in a timely fashion, the Pew Charitable Trusts hopes Obama will use the Antiquities Act to declare the area a national monument. Part of the trust's support of the bill comes from the fact that it protects land in seven Utah counties and not just the Bears Ears region...more

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