Deadlines near for San Juan public lands bill

Time is running short for San Juan County to finalize its recommendations, if any, for the public lands bill being prepared for Congress.
Officials in the office of Rep. Rob Bishop, who is sponsoring the bill, have reported that a draft of the bill will be rolled out on March 27. It is expected to include public lands in seven Utah counties, including San Juan County.
However, San Juan County has yet to finalize a recommendation. After nearly three years of work and input from hundreds of area residents, there are still unanswered questions about the San Juan County proposal.
San Juan County Commissioners have asked staff to prepare a recommendation that will be discussed at the February 17 work meeting of the Commission.
Officials in Congress, including Rep. Bishop and Rep. Jason Chaffetz, have urged the county to participate in the public lands bill.
It is feared that if Congress does not act, President Obama may make a unilateral designation regarding the millions of acres of public land in the area. Various advocacy groups have called for the designation of national monuments and wilderness areas in the county.
One point of concern has been the recommendations of Diné Bikeyah, a local advocacy group that has worked to develop a recommendation for members of the Navajo Nation. In recent meetings, representatives for Diné Bikeyah have stated in chapter meetings that they support wilderness designation for the Cedar Mesa area, rather than the less restrictive National Conservation Area (NCA) designation.
Until these recent statements, one area of consensus that has seemed to develop between the local parties has been the pursuit of an NCA designation for Cedar Mesa.
San Juan County Commissioner Rebecca Benally called a meeting on February 2 to discuss the recommendation. The meeting ended without a clarification of the issue.
Cedar Mesa is a source of firewood for thousands of local residents and the fear has been that a wilderness designation will severely restrict the gathering of firewood. A NCA designation would provide more flexibility than a wilderness designation.
The draft bill is expected to consider the recommendations from the seven counties, in addition to the recommendations from more than 100 interest groups.
San Juan County created a public lands committee, including a wide range of local residents, to create a recommendation. The group suggested three alternatives, which have been turned over to the Commission for a final recommendation.

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