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Bishop's public lands bill skewered in citizens hearing

SALT LAKE CITY — Opponents of Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative eviscerated the bill in a “citizens hearing” Wednesday organized by the Utah Wilderness Coalition and attended by hundreds.

“It is truly a disaster,” said Mark Maryboy of Utah Dine Bikeyah, renewing Native American tribes’ call for the creation of the Bear Ears National Monument.

The hearing at the University of Utah’s Orson Spencer Hall was recorded and videotaped and will be submitted to Washington, D.C., to be included in the official congressional record on the initiative, said organizer Tim Wagner from the group Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment.

Other groups at the podium included the Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the National Parks Conservation Association and Grand Old Broads For Wilderness.

“I am in the public in public lands,” said Di Allison, chairwoman of the Grand Old Broads for Wilderness. She said the proposal by Bishop, R-Utah, decimates provisions of the Wilderness Act.

“It butchers the definition of wilderness after years and years of painful collaboration and compromise,” she said.

Peter Metcalf, CEO of Black Diamond, said the initiative, touted as the fruits of a cooperative, grass-roots effort, instead is a “Pearl Harbor all-attack” on public lands.

Bishop unveiled his public lands planning bill in January after three years of working with a wide variety of groups, industries, county commissioners and local residents from eight eastern Utah counties. He warned throughout the process that his bill is one of compromise — that no one will get everything they want, but everyone will get "something."

Daggett County pulled out before the bill was released, and since then, Summit County voted to urge Bishop to rewrite that portion of the bill to reflect its public land planning desires.

The bill is an attempt to settle the contentious — and often litigious — fights that occur over how Utah’s vast public lands should be managed by the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. It sets up “wilderness” areas and creates energy zones, but environmental groups say the wilderness is in name only.

Juan Palma, former Utah director of the BLM, took to the podium at the event, emphasizing that his heritage has a deep connection to the land and the voices of Latino people should be included in the public lands planning process.

“Public lands are a salvation to me,” he said. After his remarks, he said he could not support Bishop’s proposal as written, noting specifically that its provisions for grazing — allotments can only go up and not decrease — go against the reality of managing landscapes for droughts and other threats.

Organizers of Wednesday’s hearing — which was standing room only — said they put on the citizen event to make sure Utah residents’ voices were heard in the land planning process.

Although Bishop said there would be opportunity for comment on his draft bill, Terri Martin with the Utah Wilderness Coalition said there's been no meaningful outreach.

Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said Bishop’s measure has to be derailed before it gains any momentum.

“If we stop the Public Lands Initiative, we open the door for President Obama to protect the Bears Ears,” he said.

An inter-tribal coalition has called for the designation of a new national monument to protect cultural resources in a 1.9 million acre area in San Juan County.


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