Bishop’s Public Lands bill neglects Summit County’s input
February 12, 2016
If the protesters who occupied the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge for 41 days accomplished anything, it was to fan the flames of discord over use of the nation’s public lands. Against a backdrop of rifle-toting ranchers bulldozing their line in the sand in Oregon, it is no wonder the sensitive negotiations here in Utah regarding Congressman Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative have become mired in mistrust.
This week, Bishop’s office released a draft of a comprehensive bill to address the fate of more than 18 million acres of public land in seven Utah counties: Summit, Duchesne, Uintah, Carbon, Emery, Grand and San Juan. Three years in the making, Bishop and the bill’s cosponsor, Rep. Jason Chaffetz, another Utah Republican, actively sought input from local stakeholders and their constituents. But when Summit County Council members and courthouse staffers read the report, they were stunned to learn that much of their input had been disregarded.
According to Summit County officials, parts of Bishop’s current draft are not only inconsistent with the county’s wishes to implement watershed and vegetation safeguards, they also violate the Wilderness Act.
The county’s point by point response points out that, if adopted, Bishop’s bill would authorize logging, increase livestock grazing, allow the use of helicopters to manage wildlife, expand use by recreational outfitters and allow the use of chainsaws for trail development in the High Uintas Wilderness, in violation of existing rules.
The county also takes issue with provisions in Bishop’s bill that would hinder the conservation goals in the proposed Special Management areas by allowing motorized vehicles road construction, snowmobiles, hunting, fishing and target shooting in areas they hoped would be set aside for watershed, vegetation and wildlife conservation.
The omissions seem to be at odds with Bishop’s original efforts to invite public participation in the process. According to the congressman’s website, the goal of the Public Lands Initiative was to incorporate local sentiment in each land-use decision. The site states: "Congressman Bishop will consider wilderness designations when they have the support of the local communities in which the designations occur. The people that live in these areas know the land best and are better equipped to decide what should and should not be wilderness."
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Summit County representatives clearly expressed their priorities were wilderness preservation and protection of the fragile natural resources on local public lands.
The county was also asked to identify potential land swaps. Again, according to Bishop’s website: "In addition to local support, wilderness designations should also be accompanied with other specific, tangible benefits elsewhere; such as local or state control over one or many roads; designation of zones for energy, timber and other resource development; transferring lands to local control for a new park or airport; or dedicated revenue streams generated by swapping school trust lands for energy-rich lands in other areas."
In 2015, the county’s Public Lands Advisory Group suggested transferring one 40-acre BLM parcel to Summit County and three parcels to Park City Municipal Corp. This week’s draft includes only two conveyances to Park City and none to the county.
Thanks a lot.
Perhaps Bishop and Chaffetz are hoping to court votes from the ‘Don’t Tread on Me,’ flag-waving anti-federalists who rallied around the Bundy gang in Oregon. But they are not gaining support from their constituents here in Summit County.
When Bishop says that criticism for his bill is coming "from outside of Utah" he is wrong. Instead, he ought to take a closer look at who was supporting those malcontents in Malheur.
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