Switchback- Is the PLI a Fair Deal for Public Lands in Utah?

Certainty: Utahns Demand It

By Lee Lonsberry

The genesis of the Public Lands Initiative comes from the idea that economic

development and conservation can coexist and flourish. This locally driven

process has revealed that, not only is it possible, its what the people demand.

Utahns from all walks of life have come to the table and presented their ideas for

this grand endeavor. The PLI Act seeks to combine all these diverse ideas into a

single comprehensive plan that provides certainty to all involved.

Certainty is important. It allows those who recreate and make their living on the

public lands in Utah to make plans from one season to the next without the fear

of capricious and often arbitrary restrictions. Those restrictions are often forced

down the line from a far away office on the East coast. Local stakeholders, Native

Americans, and others who have cried out loudly that they want a say in how

their public lands are managed.

Representative Bishop has created a way for those cries to be heard, and

answered. He has received over 65 detailed proposals that have been studied at

great length. The results of that study are now in the form of a Public Lands

Initiative discussion draft available for the public to review at UtahPLI.com.

This effort is ongoing, and still wide open to input from all. Rep. Bishop is

committed to introducing a piece of legislation that not only proves the idea that

economic development and conservation can exist together, but that is truly

reflective of the desires of those that call Utah home and rely on the public lands

within her borders.

Unfortunately, there are some who seek to thwart these efforts. Rep. Bishop

recently spoke to a group where he highlighted the importance of defeating these

disgraceful efforts.

Rep. Bishop talked about a time when Polio was ravaging the nation and what

President Franklin D. Roosevelt did about it.

In 1938, President Roosevelt started a foundation that would later be known as

March of Dimes. Roosevelt’s mandate was to rid the world of Polio and spare

Americans from the agony and uncertainty of the disease. For much of the next

two decades March of Dimes spent millions of dollars on Polio patient care, and

developing a vaccine. Jonas Salk delivered that vaccine, and 1955 marked the

beginning of the end for Polio.

Polio is the Hell westerners have been living in for years as federal land agencies

make arbitrary decisions that impact the lives and livelihood of some of America’s

hardest workers. The Utah Public Lands Initiative can be the cure. In this

analogy, we are all partners in the role of March of Dimes.

When Salk solved the problem with a vaccine and satisfied Roosevelt’s mandate,

March of Dimes was at a crossroads. The foundation had to make a decision. It

could have either folded up and called it a job well done, it could have reinvented

itself to cure more ills, or it could have chosen the most vile of options which

would have been to impede Jonas Salk’s important work. That way the dimes

would have kept rolling in, and the executives would have maintained their status


Where March of Dimes succeeded, many who seek to thwart the efforts of PLI

have failed. March of Dimes moved forward to fight new battles and the thwarters

have decided to impede an important work in the interest of their own self preservation.

Their criticisms of the Public Lands Initiative are disingenuous and canned. Many

of their gripes were prepared before they had even seen a draft of the bill. They

claim to reflect the will of Utahns while parroting the talking points prepared by

those who would be hard-pressed to find Utah on a map.

Those who find themselves guilty of this obstructionism should be ashamed, and

they should reinvent themselves to help cure the ill that is uncertainty in the


The Public Lands Initiative is good for Utah and it will prove that economic

development and conservation can coexist. It will do so because it is what

Utahns demand.



Lee Lonsberry is the Director of Communications in the office of Rep. Rob

Bishop. Lonsberry previously worked as a reporter for KSL Newsradio in

Salt Lake City and is a graduate of Brigham Young University.

The Public Loses with the Public Lands Initiative

By David Garber


Representative Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative (PLI) is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It is really a fossil fuel development bill that furthers the Utah Legislature’s land grab efforts all while rolling back conservation in Utah.


To begin, the PLI does not designate any real wilderness. Instead, Rep. Bishop has substituted some cheap imitation loaded with loopholes and harmful management language. For example, under the PLI, grazing would receive more protection in designated “wilderness” than it does on lands not targeted for conservation. It would allow Utah’s Department of Agriculture to use helicopters to shoot coyotes. And the list goes on.


Rep. Bishop’s wilderness management language is so bad that it would actually lower the standard by which Arches and Canyonlands national parks are managed, and this is where a sizable chunk of the PLI’s designated wilderness would be located. In these parks the PLI wilderness would actually decrease airshed protections intended to keep the air clean and vistas clear.


Rather than seeking to protect deserving landscapes in Utah, Rep. Bishop is trying to use this bill to change what the concept of wilderness means in the United States. This is not simply something conservationists are reading between the lines; Rep. Bishop has been clear that his goal as Chair of the U.S. House of Representatives’ Committee on Natural Resources is to do just that.


Even if the PLI included standard, authentic wilderness management language, it would result in less public land in Utah being managed as wilderness than is the case today. Despite any misleading figures PLI supporters might cite, this is the most important fact of the PLI: it will take wilderness management in Utah backwards.


Rep. Bishop tries to distract from this sad reality by claiming that the PLI will conserve more than 4 million acres of land while designating only 1 million acres for development. On closer inspection, these numbers simply fall apart.

A disputed roadway in the proposed Bear's Ears National Monument

A disputed roadway in the proposed Bear’s Ears National Monument

Half of this 4 million-acre figure is composed of lands that will be designated under Bishop’s loophole-plagued wilderness standard. As explained above, this is actually a step backward from the status quo.


Another half million acres of this total comes from double counting lands where conservation designations overlap or counting private land not actually protected.


The remainder of this 4 million-acre figure comes from euphemistically-termed “conservation areas” and “special management areas.” These designations do little to promote preservation. For example, one special management area is to be run so that it “promotes an economically sustainable commercial forest products industry.” Huh? Since when did designating an area for logging count as conservation?


The so-called conservation areas are littered with roads and all sorts of anti-preservation provisions. The PLI permits large-scale pinyon and juniper removal through mastication machines in conservation areas. Perhaps worst of all, the PLI effectively gives the State and counties control of the management of conservation areas. If federal land managers do not adopt the management provisions put forward by the State or its counties for these areas, they are required to submit a report to Congress. There is no similar provision for this anywhere, not even on unprotected public lands. Imagine what will happen to our public lands when county commissioners like Phil Lyman or state legislators like Mike Noel get to call the shots.


Meaningful conservation is not the PLI’s strong point. But there are two things the PLI does well: promoting fossil fuel development and promoting Utah’s land grab.


The PLI would be a boon for fossil fuel development; this of course also means it would be bad for our climate and for the long-term health of Utahns. Hidden in the details of the PLI is a provision to create expansive “energy planning areas” where oil, gas, tar sands, coal, and oil shale development—along with any other extractive activity you can think of—are prioritized above all else. These fossil fuel zones then grease the skids so that this development happens as quickly as possible.


In San Juan County, land proposed for development in the PLI.

In San Juan County, land proposed for development in the PLI.


The PLI designates over 2.4 million acres of public lands as permanent fossil fuel zones. This is more land than it designates as subpar wilderness! Yet, the informational website set up by Rep. Bishop does not disclose this figure anywhere and never maps any of these zones. When PLI supporters claim the bill only apportions 1 million acres for development they are conveniently leaving out this additional 2.4 million acres.


So if you are still counting, this bill really has about 2.2 million acres of subpar wilderness—this even includes wilderness that weakens the management standards for Arches and Canyonlands—compared to at least 3.4 million acres of land dedicated to development.


Oh, and do not forget that the PLI also gives the State of Utah a corridor to build its Book Cliffs highway—a route designed to bring intensive fossil fuel development to the southern Book Cliffs—and authorizes a disastrous land exchange. The latter would trade low value state land for high value federal land with the aim of accelerating oil and gas development in places like the southern Book Cliffs.


Finally, the PLI is laden with land grab giveaways. To help the Utah Legislature in its quest to deprive us of our public lands, the PLI gives the State more than 10,000 miles of dirt roads, two-tracks, and cow trails as 66-foot-wide highway rights-of-way. The PLI hands over management of more than 100,000 acres of public land surrounding Goblin Valley to the State. It also gifts tens of thousands of acres of public lands to the State, counties, and private individuals.


While public land management requires that we all compromise, Rep. Bishop is trying to make compromise a lopsided bargain in which citizens in Utah and across the country who support protecting Utah’s world-class public lands get the short end of the stick. The PLI does a great disservice to the amazing public lands of eastern Utah and should be scrapped altogether. It is not a good-faith effort to resolve land management differences.


In its place, President Barack Obama should instead use his Antiquities Act authority to designate Bears Ears National Monument. This 1.9 million-acre proposal in southeast Utah comes from the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, a group composed of the Navajo, Hopi, Ute Mountain Ute, Uintah and Ouray Ute, and Zuni tribes. The area includes more than 100,000 cultural sites and is the most significant unprotected cultural landscape in the United States. It also has scenery to match its cultural resources—places like White Canyon, Hatch Point, and the San Juan River.


Rather than turn these lands into fossil fuel zones or 66-foot-wide highways, as the PLI would do, let us ask that President Obama protect them for present and future generations. That is real conservation.


David Garbett grew up in Utah and is now an attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.


2 Responses to “Switchback- Is the PLI a Fair Deal for Public Lands in Utah?”

  1. I sent the following letter to the PLI Utah website. My preference was to send it to Rep. Bishop’s, but I’m not a constituent of his and his website won’t allow out of district emails. My concern is that only Mr. Lonsberry will see it at the PLI site. So…

    Mr. Lonsberry’s column in the Early Spring edition of the Utah Adventure Journal is, to use a word he uses in reference to an opposing viewpoint, disgraceful. He marginalizes and belittles those who have convictions that are equally as valid as his and the backers of the PLI.

    His attitude is disturbing. If it is the attitude of those backing the PLI, it will not be conducive to finding common ground “to prove that economic development and conservation can co-exist” (his words). That is indeed an admirable goal, but the PLI is certainly not the end-all/be-all means to the end that “Utahns demand.” Let’s see if Utahns of differing perspectives can find common ground.

    As for Mr. Lonsberry’s comparing the PLI to the March of Dimes, it’s nonsensical. “Polio is the Hell westerners have been living in for years…”: oh, come on now! I doubt Mr. Lonsberry or Rep. Bishop hold Franklin Roosevelt in particularly high esteem and I suspect that Mr. Roosevelt would not appreciate the comparison.

    To dismiss the criticisms of those with a a different point of view as “disingenuous”, as Mr. Lonsberry does, is disrespectful and demeaning. If Mr. Lonsberry’s aim was to polarize the opposition and reduce the possibilities for dialogue, he’s done an excellent job. Otherwise his column is disgraceful.

  2. The primary objective to save wild land and wild life must be to reduce human overpopulation. The best way to do that in the United States is to deport the 35 million criminal invaders and stop ALL future immigration until they are all deported. That includes the millions of Visa over stayers also.

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