Utah Congressman Rob Bishop became increasingly frustrated at the lack of progress regarding public land policies in Utah while sitting on the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands subcommittee.
In response, he chose to pursue the Public Lands Initiative.
“It’s really just a concept now,” said Melissa Subottin, spokesperson for Congressman Bishop. “This is about shifting the paradigm, changing how we’re doing things and bringing everyone to the table.”
The congressman’s office sent a letter to 26 different Utah public land stakeholders – such as Utah Association of Counties, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Western Energy Alliance – to gauge their interest in working with a delegation for the Public Land Initiative.
In the letter, Bishop expressed that he sees a “window of opportunity to end the gridlock and bring
resolution to some of the most challenging land disputes in the state.”
He stated that he is initiating a process to develop federal legislation to address public land management in eastern Utah and asked for a prioritized list of public land designations and additional priorities that should be addressed in a prospective bill.
“We’ve gotten a few good letters from outside groups, including those with environmental interests,” Subottin said. “We’re receiving feedback.”
Two of those letters were from Moab business owners.
One was signed by 30 business owners in southeastern Utah, 22 of those from Moab specifically, that belong to the Utah Outdoor Business Network (UOBN). The other was from Colin Fryer, owner of Red Cliff Lodge and other recreational businesses.
“Our businesses depend on recreation assets located on public lands,” the letter from UOBN stated.
Ashley Korenblat of Western Spirit Cycling met with the Grand County Council at their Tuesday, May 7 council meeting to present the letter to the council, as well as invite the council to be part of the public land planning process.
“What’s great about Congressman Bishop working on the legislation is that we all have a chance to give our input. I think he is really trying to solve a problem,” Korenblat said. “When you write legislation there is an opportunity for every single stakeholder to be part of the process. It is the beautiful part of democracy.”
Korenblat spent three years working on 30 different land protection proposals for the biking community while serving on the board of the International Mountain Biking Association.
Colin Fryer of Red Cliffs Lodge, Doug Sorenson of Portal RV and Jacques Hadler from Moab Cyclery sat with Korenblat and offered their perspectives during the council meeting, stating both their investments as well as their commitment to provide stable year-round employment.
“The essence of the presentation we made is that many business in Moab have invested not only their money, but their hearts and souls to live here,” Korenblat said. “We want to make sure the county and the congressmen are aware of recreation assets that drive our businesses.”
Fryer didn’t sign the UOBN letter. Instead he sent his own.
“I didn’t want to be painted with someone else’s brush,” he said. “They weren’t clearly speaking out that they were for multiple use. Most people would read that letter as a more lands protective letter than a lands sharing letter.”
In Fryer’s letter to Congressman Bishop he referred to his investment as the owner of Red Cliffs Lodge, three motels, a restaurant, a winery and a horseback-riding outfit, as well as the time he has spent serving as the chair of the Utah Office of Tourism Marketing committee.
“I mention this only as a way to introduce myself as having some experience and ability to testify as to the importance of our public lands as the sustaining backbone of tourism in this area,” Fryer wrote.
However, he continued, stating that he believes that all stakeholders should be involved in decisions regarding public lands.
“I believe there is room for grazing, mineral development, motorized and non-motorized recreation, but that they should not all occur in the same place,” he wrote. “I support common sense, some compromise, but always with an eye for the greater good in any decision for the public land use.”
Fyer ran cattle for 17 years.
“If I could have one job, that would be my job,” he said.
When he bought White’s Ranch alongside the Colorado River on State Route 128, the location of Red Cliffs Lodge, he also bought the public land grazing permits associated with the ranch.
Western ranches may have a few hundred deed acres, but are dependent on wide open spaces of Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and state land for forage, he said.
“It requires a tremendous amount of land and the ability to drift between them. As more people are recreating there is a potential for conflict. Recreation has little historical reverence for ranches,” Fryer said. “There’s a conflict.”
He cautioned that if different stakeholders can’t work together then “Obama will stand out at Hatch Point and declare a national monument and none of us will get what we want.”
“When it comes down to it, that land belongs to us all. We should get some of what we want, but no one is going to get all that they want,” Fryer said. “It’s huge country out there. There are a lot of iconic places we can protect and still have room for ranching and mining.”
Korenblat produced several maps at the county council meeting, showing areas used by different venues of recreation, such as boating, mountain biking, off-highway vehicles, rock climbing, canyoneering, horseback riding and basejumping.
“The great thing about working on the maps and talking to stakeholders is that we can yield big zones of agreement,” Korenblat said. “There are certain areas that are already being drilled, or have endangered species. There are already areas of agreement.”
She said that by having stakeholders – those in recreation, resource extraction or ranching – identify the areas of concern, real negotiations can begin to take place.
“This can highlight the small areas of actual conflict,” Korenblat said. “Instead of getting sucked into meetings of philosophies, we can discuss how to optimize the landscape. Recreation companies have invested in Moab and need to be assured the recreation assets will continue to be there. By the same token, the resource extraction people have been leasing parcels with the assumption they would be able to drill in a cost-effective way.”
During the county council meeting councilman Lynn Jackson said that Grand County is at a cross-roads regarding ranching, mining and recreation.
“There is enough for all,” he said. “We need to look at the issues in detail so we can come to some solutions.”
Jackson said that it is important to work with the different interest groups and Congressman Bishop.
“We have oil and gas potential here, as well as potash, where we can have jobs so families can afford to raise children,” Jackson said.
Councilwoman Elizabeth Tubbs expressed that she wanted to see a process where everyone involved can express their “two cents”.
Councilman Jim Nyland said that he felt discouraged by the Outdoor Industry Association’s letter to President Obama requesting a presidential proclamation to establish a Greater Canyonlands National Monument.
“We need to work together to make the best land plan,” he said. “Everyone on the council supports recreation. Let’s work out a plan locally for the best plan. We have to sustain ourselves.”
Jackson echoed Nyland’s concern.
“There is a common sense approach here. We can set aside areas for oil and gas or potash,” Jackson said. “Under the presidential proclamation for a national monument there was no room for multiple use.”
Scott Groene of SUWA said that the process for the Public Lands Initiative still isn’t clear and that SUWA will continue to talk directly with Congressman Bishop’s office.
“Our efforts to protect the canyons through either the Greater Canyonlands proposal or America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act will continue, as we participate,” Groene said. “If there is a successful wilderness bill that we support, it could obviate the need for some or all of either proposal in the future.”
Subottin said that the congressman’s staff has held 130 meetings with various groups.
“We’ve made ourselves available should they have questions, but we want to hear from folks what their priorities are,” Subottin said. “Rob’s focus is to be a facilitator, to put together a package that every body can agree upon.”
She said that the office is now focused on gathering responses.
“There are several steps to take between now and sponsoring the bill.”