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A First Draft of the Public Lands Initiative is Already DOA With Tribes and Green Groups


The long-awaited first draft of the proposed Utah Public Lands Initiative, authored by congressional members Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, is set for public release. The draft is already under fire from Utah’s tribal and green groups.



It’s been called “The Grand Bargain,” a way to ensure that everyone, from wilderness advocates to drill baby drillers, get a piece of the public lands pie. And the first draft has already become a subject of scorn among Utah environmental groups and tribal groups, who are joining to push for a Bears Ears national monument, which a recent poll says is supported by two out of three Utahns.


Leonard Lee, from Aneth, is involved with Dineh Bikeyah and the five-tribe coalition that is proposing Bears Ears. Lee explained why the tribes walked away from the Bishop plan.


“Nobody took us seriously. Nobody really listened. We were let down and they told us that us Navajo, the Native American people, that we don’t know how to take care of land, go back to the reservation.”


The tribal coalition accused Bishop and Chaffetz of “a long and callous pattern of not taking the tribe’s concerns seriously,” and of “heavy-handed political over-reaching.” Mark Maryboy, from Montezuma Creek, says this new draft of the Public Lands Initiative is more of the same.


“We’re not happy with his draft. The trust is not there. If we should support him with his legislation, who knows what he’s going to do? He could modify it on the floor in congress, and Bishop is chairman of the Natural Resources Committee. He has a lot of sway.”


Lee takes issue with Bishop and Chaffetz, who have characterized Bears Ears supporters as “outsiders” who don’t qualify as stakeholders.


“We don’t consider ourselves as stakeholders. We’re not stakeholders. We’re the landlord. (laughs)”


Scott Groene is executive director of the SUWA, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.


The discussion becomes, is it just a mechanism to try and run the clock out on President Obama using the Antiquities Act to preserve the Bears Ears.


Groene says SUWA is also ready to walk away from the Bishop/Chaffetz plan, and to unite with the tribes to push for a Bears Ears national monument. 


“Certainly time is running out to try and accomplish anything in this congress. It’s a presidential election year. The congress is meeting only 110 days. It would be very difficult to try and enact legislation even if everyone was in agreement.”


Groene agrees with a recent Salt Lake Tribune editorial that argued that the whole Bishop plan process has relied too heavily on county commissioners.


“Whatever the proposed legislation is will simply reflect the wish list of rural county commissioners. And if that’s the case then we’ll be headed down the same rotten path that we’ve been down in Utah some dozen times, where terrible legislation is introduced to please the egos of a handful of rural county commissioners, and will die in the congress, and we will have failed again.”

Originally from Wyoming, Jon Kovash has practiced journalism throughout the intermountain west. He was editor of the student paper at Denver’s Metropolitan College and an early editor at the Aspen Daily News. He served as KOTO/Telluride’s news director for fifteen years, during which time he developed and produced Thin Air, an award-winning regional radio news magazine that ran on 20 community stations in the Four Corners states. In Utah his reports have been featured on KUER/SLC and KZMU/Moab. Kovash is a senior correspondent for Mountain Gazette and plays alto sax in “Moab’s largest garage band."