Lawmaker’s plan for Utah public lands draws criticism

FILE - This June 18, 2014 file photo shows West Jordan Republican Rep. Ken Ivory speaking during a hearing at the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City. A deadline Utah set for the federal government to hand over 31 million acres of public land quietly passed with no such transfer, something predicted by both critics and supporters of the state's push for control. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, File)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Utah lawmaker’s proposal to resolve longtime conflicts over the state’s public lands has drawn criticism from environmentalists and Republican leaders.

Rep. Rob Bishop’s compromise plan was clearly an object of derision among GOP legislators during a legislative briefing Thursday. Opponents of Bishop’s public-lands process, which he launched three years ago, say it undermines the campaign to transfer public lands to state management amid disputes with the federal government. It could also create problems by leading to new wilderness designations in eastern Utah.

“When you create wilderness, you create a problem for adjacent counties,” Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, said in front of staffers representing the state’s congressional delegation and Gov. Gary Herbert. “You create Class I airsheds. It’s a cop in your backyard waiting for you to do something wrong.”

The staff was there to give an update on the public lands process in front of the Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands, the Salt Lake Tribune reported (

Through meetings with county officials, environmentalists, energy developers and others, Bishop is mapping out a land plan for Utah that he says will balance protection, energy development, recreation and other uses.

Seven eastern Utah counties have taken on proposals that affect 18 million acres of land overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service. The proposals are the culmination of hundreds of meetings involving local stakeholders.

Conservationists, however, say they did not have significant input when rural counties met on the matter. Scott Groene, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance executive director, said many of the proposals among these counties don’t have a strong conservation component. Public lands bills rarely pass Congress without the support of the environmentalist community, he added.

“If the bill goes with the county proposals, it will just be the same fight we have been having for the past 20 years,” Groene said. “We would love to see if we can reach an agreement, but we are worried this has really veered off the tracks.”

Casey Snider, Bishop’s legislative director, said the process’ success could mean certainty to public lands management and hindering a national monument designation by President Barack Obama.

“There is a gun to the head of this state. That gun is loaded and it is wielded by the Obama administration,” Snider said. “There are areas worthy of protection. The fact that they still exist speaks to the good stewardship by the people of Utah.”

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