By Julie Johansen
The controversy and confusion over the use of public lands has continued for almost three decades in southeastern Utah. The disagreement has been centered in the debate between conservation and development.
“The future of the state’s welfare depends on the solution and adoption of this public lands initiative,” Utah Congressman Rob Bishop said.
At the time of the designation of the Grand Staircase National Monument in southwestern Utah, Southeastern Utah began the overwhelming process to protect its public lands. After much discussion, research, touring, writing, compromising, rewriting and many public hearings, an initiative is now ready to be presented to the Congress of the United States.
The process has been open, inclusive and transparent. This initiative calls for a shift in management and protection of public lands. Congressman Bishop as well as fellow Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz have examined it thoroughly and have released it to the press.
This initiative covers approximately 18 million acres of public land. These lands have been used for mining, grazing, recreation, ranching and wildlife habitat. Government agencies have developed many risk management plans and held many public comment meetings trying to reach a consensus about the management of these lands.
Found within these areas are various state sections and school trust lands that cannot be effectively used because they are surrounded by public lands slated for other uses. This initiative works to achieve compromise between the development and conservation of the areas in question.
A coalition of county commissioners from Uintah, San Juan, Carbon, Wayne and Emery counties has called for reform in the assignment and use of public land. It is their desire for local control, local ownership and local management of the public land in southeastern Utah. This initiative, if passed, would accomplish these goals.
Opponents of this initiative call for wilderness designation or retention of federal management to limit multiple use and exploration in these areas. They prefer a federal management and the discontinuance of many local activities in these areas.
Utah Senator Mike Lee plans to present this initiative to the United States Senate during the upcoming session and hopes for its passage before a presidential designation has a chance to occur.