What’s happening with public lands in Utah?

The latest news on public lands issues in our great state

Written by Kate Ferguson, Action Utah Issue Captain

Our public lands—National Parks, BLM, and refuges to name a few—are under constant pressure from Americans who view land use through many different lenses. Theoretically, public lands should be sustainably managed and kept intact for future generations. But public agencies are woefully and perennially underfunded, and the lands they manage suffer from overuse and neglect. How can we share these lands between the various interests who demand conflicting ideas of best use?  Who moderates the contentious power plays that arise from groups vying for rights to extract resources like coal, oil and gas, or who desire the land to be used to recreate, to ride bikes, to rock climb or camp? Who decides how these lands should be managed to better factor in to the public’s health and well-being? Well, finding management solutions that make sense for users today and tomorrow is tricky.  Utah citizens care about their public lands; below is an update on a few of the big (and not as big) issues that are important today.

What’s up with Bears Ears National Monument?

While management of Western Public Lands will be one of Secretary Zinke’s biggest challenges, Bears Ears National Monument continues to contend for front row attention at the state and national level. President Obama, acting to protect an area he deemed threatened, designated this land last December under the Antiquities Act. The Trump administration has heard an earful from Utah politicians who feel this was a gross over-reach of power and call for the land to be downsized, rescinded and turned over for state management. Tribes and conservation groups close to the debate remain on high alert awaiting for word on whether Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, will come do his due diligence and tour the area and call for it to stand as designated. Action Utah will send out an Urgent Call to Action the minute we hear if Zinke is on his way. Let us know how you feel about this debate. For now, it’s good news that Trump hasn’t acted unilaterally and rescinded the monument. Stay tuned.

And what’s new with Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument?

As you know, GOP lawmakers in Utah are calling to shrink the monument in hopes to potentially mine the coal and uranium deposits that lie inside the existing monument. The outdoor industry and associated enthusiasts wish to leave the boundaries as they are. Ranchers feel deep resentment that the monument was even designated in the first place. Yet a poll released by Colorado College found that most westerners are opposed to policy that changes current land management policy. This divide shows little hope for a non-contentious outcome. Many local businesses and residents continue to fight for the designation to remain: they have showed up to County meetings; launched letter-writing campaigns to Secretary Zinke; and published ads in the local paper voicing their support for the GSENM to stay as it is. Many cite clear-cut increases in revenue and economic opportunities since the designation. We are hopeful that Zinke is true to his word and that he really is “a Teddy Roosevelt Republican.”

What’s happening with the oil and gas leases up for sale near National Parks and Monuments?

Well, the BLM proposal to auction off several parcels north-west of Zion on the Kolob Terrace Road could move forward on June 15. Last February, citizens of Virgin showed up in a community center to voice their opposition to the leasing proposal. Nearby towns of Toquerville and Springdale have passed resolutions against the leases citing water quality concerns and the close proximity to one of our state’s most beloved National Parks. According to The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, they are standing by to appeal and litigate, if necessary. Stay tuned. In the meantime, Secretary Zinke approved a $22 million dollar coal lease to the Utah Fuel Company, LLC, in Central Utah on the Greens Hollow tract, north of the area directly impacted by the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Is there any good news? Yes!

The Salt Lake Tribune reports (Kanarra Creek parcel set to become public, April 12, 2017) the BLM has acquired 41 acres at the mouth of a popular hiking spot in the Iron County town of Kanarraville. The trailhead was previously privately owned constraining public access to over 40,000 annual users. On Tuesday, the BLM announced that it bought the parcel for $660,000 and paid for it out of the Land and Water Conservation fund. According to the Trib, Keith Rigtrup, a BLM spokesperson, stated the BLM’s “multiple use mission is uniquely qualified to help coordinate with organizations and local governments that have a vested interest in the area.”

Remember the 2014 ATV protest ride in Blanding’s Recapture Canyon and the subsequent jail time for San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman? Well, after ten years’-worth of analysis, Secretary Zinke lifted a ban on some areas of Recapture Canyon and the BLM decided not to re-open the illegally built trails at the bottom of the canyon, instead compromising with an agreement to establish 6.8 miles of routes on the rim for motorized vehicle use. This is a win for environmental groups, like SUWA and Great Old Broads for Wilderness, who tirelessly worked for this outcome. The BLM states they will now investigate other areas for ATV trail expansion in more appropriate places. You can read more about this issue from the Tribune here and from the San Juan Record here.

And finally, Bonanza Flat

Another land issue close to the Wasatch Front we feel you should know about is Bonanza Flat. Bonanza Flat is approximately 1,350 acres of land with alpine meadows and lakes between Park City and Guardsman Pass. Local recreational, environmental and conservation non-profits have formed a coalition for this a fundraising campaign to place this land in permanent protection from development. Utah Open Lands, Save Our Canyons, Mountain Trails Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Summit Land Conservancy, Sierra Club, Wasatch Backcountry Alliance, Friends of Alta and Winter Wildlands Alliance, and Trails Utah are working tirelessly on fundraising efforts to help save this land. The effort has until June 15th to secure the final three million dollars. Please spread the word! Learn more and donate by clicking here. Let’s keep this land open for Wasatch wildlife and watershed forever.

 

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