Public Lands Initiative Response
July 15, 2016
[SALT LAKE CITY] The Nature Conservancy has reviewed in more detail the version of the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act that was introduced yesterday by Congressmen Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz. In short, while we appreciate the several improvements which were made, some at our request, the measure also now has serious shortcomings. Accordingly, The Nature Conservancy has sent the following a letter with our comments (below).
Dear Congressman Bishop and Congressman Chaffetz:
We appreciate the effort you and members of your staffs have put into developing the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act (PLI Act) for southeastern Utah. In our view, the PLI Act introduced in Congress on 7/14/16 has been improved from the PLI “Discussion Draft” released on 1/20/16. There are changes which have strengthened the measure from a conservation standpoint, but the bill continues to have serious limitations.
Accordingly, The Nature Conservancy cannot support PLI in its current form. Also, we wish to be clear that The Nature Conservancy opposes the “PLI Partner Act” limiting presidential authority to designate national monuments in certain parts of Utah, which was also introduced in Congress on 7/14/16.
We do appreciate provisions which have improved the PLI Act. These include: Indian Creek NCA – The Indian Creek region has been added as an NCA which advances research programs of the Canyonlands Research Center and identifies research uses as beneficial. Wild and Scenic Rivers – The bill grants Wild and Scenic River Status to approximately 357 miles of the Green, Dolores, San Juan and Colorado Rivers in Uintah, Carbon, Emery Grand and San Juan Counties.
The above improvements do not, in our view, compensate for the following shortcomings:
- Energy Language – Title XI of the bill proposes to establish a state program with jurisdiction over federal lands energy leasing thereby bypassing not only federal control but also undermining successful collaborations such as the Moab Master Leasing Plan. This provision would not apply simply to selected and limited energy zones, but to all public land in seven counties. This is unprecedented and not a provision the Conservancy can support.
- NCA Language – The current NCA language in many instances does not track standard NCA language which has been adopted previously by Congress. This will make the measure more difficult to pass.
- NCA Management Plan Consultation – Requiring the “relevant Secretary” to submit a letter to Congress if he/she does not accept the recommendations of the Public Lands Initiative Planning and Implementation Advisory Committee is an unnecessary burden.
- Land Exchanges – Though NEPA will apply in a limited fashion to the proposed land exchange(s), there is no allowance for the continued protection of critical plant and animal habitat or natural features when federal lands are transferred to the State. In addition, because standard federal appraisal requirements are waived, there is high potential for a valuation imbalance which will be unacceptable to many members of Congress.
- Composition of Public Lands Initiative Planning and Implementation Committee – Of 22 members, only one is required from the conservation community, and the overall weighting favors representatives likely opposed to many conservation measures.
- Long-Term Grazing Certainty – While certain grazing language has been improved, Title XIII, Sec. 1303 seems to contradict other grazing language and suggests that Congressional language, rather than sound range science, will set grazing levels. In addition, there is unacceptable language indicating that such grazing levels would be set for lands outside areas designated in the Title.
- Bourdette Draw Recreation Area – Setting aside Bourdette Draw to promote off-highway vehicle recreation may impact critical habitat for greater sage-grouse, undermining efforts to avoid a listing under the Endangered Species Act.
- Other – Grazing language in the section regarding the proposed Price Canyon State Forest exchange needs improvement, the conveyance of the Seep Ridge Utility Corridor should take into account key natural features, proceeds from land disposals should be re-invested in Utah conservation projects, similar to the Federal Land Transaction Facilitation Act, and NCA boundaries need refining.
The above list reflects our initial reaction to the PLI Act as introduced; we may have additional comments in the coming days.
In sum, while the version of PLI which has now been introduced in Congress has been strengthened in certain respects, more work is needed. The Conservancy’s overall goal is to achieve the best conservation outcomes possible for the seven county region. Ideally, these outcomes can be realized through the PLI Act and the legislative process. However, if this is not possible, we acknowledge the declaration of a National Monument at Bears Ears would offer significant protection for key lands in San Juan County which is vitally needed at this time.
This letter reflects the views of our Utah Chapter at the staff level and, at this point in time, does not necessarily reflect the views of our Utah Board or The Nature Conservancy as a whole.
The Nature Conservancy
Utah State Director
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world's toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at unprecedented scale, and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in more than 65 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.