Congressmen release past-due Public Lands Initiative
Jul 19, 2016 | 8983 views | 0 0 comments | 411 411 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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In the past week, the long-awaited Public Lands Initiative (PLI) was introduced to Congress by Utah Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz.

The PLI is a Congressional effort to settle many of the longstanding public lands issues in seven counties in eastern Utah, including San Juan County.

Since the Obama Administration is considering use of the Antiquities Act to create the Bears Ears National Monument, the PLI is the Congressional alternative to a Presidential declaration.

The Congressmen have been working on the PLI for several years in a process that has been delayed time and time again. While some observers state that it may be too late to thwart a Presidential declaration, the Congressmen are confident that the PLI can move forward.

When introducing the bill, Rep. Bishop stated that the nature of the compromise inherent in the process meant that no one would be completely happy with the bill.

That may be true in local county government, where, after an extended public process, San Juan County created a recommendation for the PLI.

Local officials are concerned that much of the “local flavor” of the San Juan County recommendation is not included in the final PLI bill, including issues regarding roads, energy development zones, and management guidance provisions.

Other officials are supportive of the PLI in contrast to the Bears Ears National Monument. “I support the PLI because it keeps the Abajo Mountains as is, while Bears Ears swallows it up,” said Commissioner Bruce Adams.

The PLI covers issues on 18 million acres of public land in Eastern Utah. It would provide permanent, congressional designation of 1.4 million acres in San Juan County, including the Bears Ears region.

The protection is provided via two National Conservation Areas (NCA). In general, a NCA offers increased protection to public lands but is less restrictive than a National Monument.

There are wilderness areas within the proposed NCAs, in addition to a wilderness designation in Mancos Mesa.

Congressional officials state that the two NCA models provide for more tailored management that reflects on-the-ground conditions.

The Indian Creek NCA is tailored for outdoor recreation and grazing, while the Bears Ears NCA is focused on tribal access and cultural resource protection.

Officials say the two NCA models are supported by various kinds conservation organizations, including the Nature Conservancy, Friends of Cedar Mesa, and the Access Fund.

Officials add that an entirely new section was added to the PLI legislation in order to elevate management priorities of the Bears Ears NCA. It creates a process for tribes to enter into cooperating agency status with the Department of Interior, giving tribes and meaningful see that the management table.

It creates the Bears Ears Tribal Commission, which is tasked with working with the Secretary of the Interior on the management of the NCA and promotes the employment of tribal members in the management of the NCA.

The introduced bill designates the Hole in the Rock Trail as a National Historical Trail and provides for continued access and use by local foundations and the public.

Recapture Canyon will be open to responsible use, consistent with federal archaeological and cultural resources laws.

Many ideas were received regarding Native American economic development. They include:

• The McCracken Mesa extension of the Navajo reservation will receive ownership of the minerals located beneath the surface, boosting self-determination and economic development.

• The formula for the Utah Navajo trust fund will be reversed, leaving 62.5 percent of the Aneth extension oil and gas royalties in place for Utah Navajo schoolchildren. In the past, 62.5 percent of the royalties were sent to the Navajo Nation in Window Rock, AZ.

The PLI would expand Arches National Park by more than 18,000 acres and create the Jurassic National Monument at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry in Emery County.
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