Since the Utah Public Lands Initiative began, the National Parks Conservation Association, a nearly 100-year-old organization, has been an engaged stakeholder in the process, representing more than a million members and supporters nationwide. We long hoped for on the ground, collaborative solutions to eastern Utah’s public lands issues. However, all semblance of compromise is overshadowed in the draft bill by broad policy provisions — some of which were not shared or discussed with stakeholders, and others that NPCA identified as nonviable compromises from the beginning of the process.
While the discussion draft does include an expansion at Arches National Park, we are shocked by many other policy provisions in the bill and much of the draft bill language.
NPCA is disappointed that our long standing priority of Completing Canyonlands by expanding the park boundaries to reflect the original vision for the park was not addressed. A Bears Ears National Conservation Area, as proposed in the PLI draft, would be adjacent to the park but would not adequately protect the basin and its many natural and cultural resources from irresponsible off-road vehicle use and other potentially incompatible uses. The Bears Ears National Monument, as proposed to the Obama Administration by the Intertribal Coalition, would provide much stronger protections for our Canyonlands Completion area, and we are excited about its prospects.
Though we support new wilderness designation inside the national parks as proposed in the draft PLI, the stipulations attached to the wilderness administration language would essentially reduce the level of protection for lands inside national parks. The draft bill undermines the Wilderness Act, potentially the Clean Air Act, and ultimately the authority of the National Park Service to fully manage wilderness values as well as the parks’ natural and cultural resources.
NPCA is also opposed to opening more than 2.5 million acres to expedited energy development. We strongly believe that Master Leasing Plans are more effective at creating certainty on the Utah landscape not only for energy development, but also for recreation and conservation. Prohibiting the application of this valuable management tool would nullify years of cooperative efforts invested in the Moab MLP and prevent a similar level of consideration at other deserving public lands.
Finally, we are dismayed by the unacceptable giveaway of R.S. 2477 rights-of-ways inside national park boundaries and on the broader landscape. Within park boundaries, travel management by the National Park Service is critical to achieve the flow and volume of visitors into the parks enabling them to meet goals for recreational access and long-term resource protection.
The discussion draft of the PLI does not represent a balanced approach to resolving Utah’s public land issues and in fact includes many threats to the national parks and the broader landscape in eastern Utah that we all hold dear.
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Columnist Teri Orr writes that it is the time of year to push reset buttons.