Congressman plots public lands giveaway

Gotta have one good camping trip every summer!
Some of Utah’s favorite public lands playgrounds could be privatized under a bill to be introduced in Congress this week. @bberwyn photo.

Fracking in national parks?

Staff Report

Given the extreme anti-federal positions gaining traction around the West, it’s probably not surprising that a new bill by advanced Utah Republican Congressman Rob Bishop was presented as a moderate proposal for public lands compromise by some news outlets.

But his bill, due to be introduced this week, is only moderate when compared to the armed Oregon takeover of public lands by trespassers. By any other measure, it’s one of the most extreme anti-environmental bills that has ever been considered in Washington, D.C.

The Center for Western Priorities, a watchdog group which characterizes the measure as “an extreme and deceptive attack on our nation’s public lands that does little for conservation.”

According to the organization, the bill is a giveaway to big oil and gas companies and would hurt the majority of public lands users, including hikers, campers, sportsmen and women, Native American tribes, and the American people. Included in the proposed legislation is an outright giveaway of almost 10,000 acres of federally managed public lands to the state of Utah.

The Center for Western Priorities offered a breakdown of the bill in advance of its release. Among other things, the group’s analysts say the measure would create wilderness in name only, by opening huge loopholes for special interests.

“For example, the bill legislates that new wilderness areas — even those in national parks—cannot be designated as a “Class I airshed” to protect visibility and air quality,” the center wrote.

The proposal also mandates that grazing continue at current levels within protected areas in perpetuity, regardless of drought or condition of the range. And lands that are currently set aside as Wilderness Study Areas would be given up forever and “released” for industrial uses.

In exchange for new so-called wilderness, Bishop’s measure would open all unprotected land in six Utah counties as energy zones, that would be open to expedited oil, gas, and other mineral leasing and development.

Bishop also wants to ignore Native American requests for strict protection of the culturally significant Bears Ears region. Instead of National Monument designation, the measure would create conservation area with a management commission that could include a local country commissioner who was recently sentenced to jail for for leading an illegal ATV ride that damaged Native American archaeological sites.

Bishop’s bill would also open thousands of miles of dirt trails to motorized vehicles in eastern Utah. As written, any county covered by the legislation could claim an historical right-of-way under an old law from 1866 called “Revised Statute 2477” and those “right-of-ways” would be opened to motorized traffic, potentially even in protected areas.



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