Utah public lands deal meets firestorm

In what they characterized as a sweeping gesture of compromise, Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz unveiled their plan to resolve decades of deadlock over how eastern Utah’s public lands are managed even as environmental and tribal groups declared the proposal “dead on arrival” and a shameless giveaway to oil and gas interests.

On Jan. 20 at the state’s Capitol, the Republican congressmen released a “discussion draft” of a bill that would set aside special landscapes like Cedar Mesa, San Rafael Swell and Labyrinth Canyon, while expediting mineral development in areas deemed less worthy of protection.

“There is something here for everyone to like and something for everyone to hate,” Bishop said, “but if you look at the totality of what we are doing, it is moving us so far forward, there is value in it.”

Lake Canyon





An oil well in Lake Canyon in Utah’s Duchesne County. Photo by Brian Maffly

The Utah Public Lands Initiative Act, or PLI, crafted after 1,200 meetings hosted by Bishop and Chaffetz over the past three years, “is rooted in the belief that conservation and economic development can coexist and make Utah a better place to live, work, and visit,” their offices wrote in a summary of the bill that would affect 18 million acres of public land in seven counties.

The draft envisions 4.3 million acres of conservation designations, including 1.1 million for a Bears Ears National Conservation Area. But the tribes pushing for protections of sacred lands around San Juan County’s Cedar Mesa called the gestures “a slap in the face.”



Drilling headed to Utah’s Uintas

Nearly 65,000 acres on the Uinta Mountains’ North Slope have been leased for oil and gas. Now a Texas company wants to drill an exploratory well on an old lease that has been “unitized” with a large block of leases around Gilbert Creek and Smith Fork. The story of the so-called Platte Petroleum projectBlacks Fork shows how federal leasing can encumber natural landscapes for decades with the threat of energy development. The U.S. Forest Service is completing an environmental assessment of the exploratory project, but conservationists want a much more thorough analysis. — Brian Maffly

Brian Maffly reports in the Salt Lake Tribune.