Bishop set to unveil 'Grand Bargain' bill on public lands for Utah
Ravell Call, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Rep. Rob Bishop is set to unveil his "Grand Bargain" Wednesday at the Utah State Capitol, a measure that is touted as one of the most ambitious public lands bills to chart a course for recreation, conservation and industry in Utah.
Bishop's office on Friday made the announcement for the Wednesday event, which will also include Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, and Gov. Gary Herbert.
More than three years in the making, the Public Lands Initiative process has tapped more than 100 stakeholders interested in the destiny of some 18 million acres in eastern Utah, carving out landscape level designations that aim to put an end to contentious land disputes.
The process has involved elected leaders from seven counties — Summit, Grand, San Juan, Emery, Carbon, Uintah and Duchesne — as well as multiple conservation and environmental groups such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Friends of Cedar Mesa, the Wilderness Society and the Nature Conservancy.
Bishop also brought together multiple industry representatives from the oil and gas sector, grazing, mining and other sectors, and more than a dozen field trips were held to see public land issues from the ground up.
From the outset, Bishop has promised that no one will be completely happy with his proposal — that everyone gets something and no one gets everything — but he has said he believes the legislation will put an end to the bitter fights over how Utah land should be best used.
The bill will establish "energy" zones where it is appropriate to extract oil and gas, mine for potash and other minerals, and protect high-value recreation areas from industry encroachment. It sets aside wilderness, but it is also designed to give industry some certainty, Bishop has said.
Bishop and his staff worked with San Juan County leaders and Navajo representatives in Utah to set up a National Conservation Area to implement protections for the Bears Ears Butte — an area of spiritual healing and sacred significance to tribes.
The National Conservation Area designation, however, does not go far enough for some Native American tribes, who have pushed the Obama administration to create a nearly 2-million-acre national monument through use of the Antiquities Act. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition has since pulled out of the Bishop process.
For his part, Bishop has said that a monument designation is the wrong move for both the state and the tribes, since it would put so many uses of the land — including Native American activities — off limits.
The Public Lands Initiative process has not been without its detractors, and the repeated delays have caused some to question if Bishop would ever deliver.
Bishop has said the process dragged on longer than he anticipated because of fine-tuning the language.
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