It’s not the part of the state he represents in Washington, D.C., but Congressman Rob Bishop is coming to Southeastern Utah.
However, due to a public lands initiative he is working on as a member of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands subcommittee, he will be taking tours of federally managed lands and holding open houses to seek public comment.
He will hold an open house in Moab at 7:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 9 at the Grand Center on 500 West.
Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who represents Utah’s Third District will accompany Bishop on his tour.
The public lands initiative is rooted in the belief that conservation and economic development can coexist and make Utah a better place to live, work, and visit, Bishop said. The idea is to bring together diverse groups to determine public land designations by splitting the pie into areas for wilderness, recreation and resource development.
The congressman’s office sent a letter in April 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.
“For decades, unsettled land-use designations, such as wilderness study areas, have fueled distrust and
acrimony. The uncertainty about the future of these lands created conflict amongst those favoring
differing types of uses,” Bishop said. “The diverse uses of public lands have an important role in making Utah healthy, viable, and inviting. The future of the state depends on a responsible balance of both conservation and development.”
Grand County councilman Lynn Jackson and local businesswoman Ashley Korenblat, owner of Western Spirit Cycling, have been actively working with Bishop to seek common ground for public lands management in the Grand County.
The two testified in June at Bishop’s request on another issue before the House Natural Resources Committee in Washington, D.C. to discuss how local collaboration can facilitate public land access, citing the example of the Sand Flats Recreation Area that is a federal land area, but managed by Grand County.
Korenblat, who provided one of the signatures on the Outdoor Industry Association’s letter to President Barack Obama in November requesting the designation of a Greater Canyonlands National Monument, said that she preferred the option of legislation through the public lands initiative to protect public lands for recreation than the creation of a national monument. The proposed national monument would encompass 1.4 million acres surrounding Canyonlands National Park.
“I think the legislation has the potential to achieve more than what you could achieve with the monument,” Korenblat said. “This would alleviate the need for a monument.”
Korenblat has been involved with public land initiatives in the past while serving 10 years as chair or as a board member of International Mountain Biking Association. She returned to the association as a staff member to direct the public lands initiative.
She cited an example in Taos, New Mexico where legislation was used to preserve wilderness in the Columbine Hondo area. There were bike trails there that were closed by the wilderness designation. However, through a compromise, 1.5 miles of a bike trail that had been closed due to arbitrary boundaries for another wilderness area were opened. By opening that 1.5 miles of trail, a 20-mile bike trail was available for mountain bikers to access an alpine lake.
“It opened a new recreational opportunity in the summertime in the Taos Ski Valley,” Korenblat said. “The point is its a win-win for everyone. We were able to resolve the wilderness study area, the businesses in Taos were happy and the mountain bikers were happy.”
Korenblat has been working with Bishop to provide maps of areas that are important to recreational businesses in the Moab-area.
“It’s an opportunity to update the system to reflect Moab’s needs. Many of the recreation-related businesses that have invested in the county did so with the assumption that the recreation assets would always be there,” Korenblat said.
However, Korenblat knows that through legislation there will be compromise.
“The landscape is big enough to give everybody about 85 percent of what they want,” Korenblat said. “Democracy is about compromise. If everybody insists on getting everything they want it’s hard to cut a deal.”
Councilman Jackson has been actively working on the public lands initiative to ensure a diverse economy for Grand County.
“The recreation community and conservation community has been providing maps. The mineral industry has relied on their associations and they have not provided maps,” Jackson said. “The congressman’s staff is now reaching out to these entities.”
As different groups specify their wants through maps, eventually maps of oil fields and leases will need to overlaid, Jackson said.
“Some areas will show there is no overlay and no conflict. Others will show some conflict. You want to know where those areas are at,” Jackson said. “In a high percentage of the area there are no conflicts.”
It is the 10 to 20 percent of the land that will require negotiation, he said.
“The questions are ‘Where is there conflict and how do we manage it?’” he said. “Multiple use is a great thing, but that doesn’t mean on every single acre you can do everything. You have to have common sense. We want to give recreation interests some assurances; but for commodities we want to give the same thing.”
He said that he and other councilmen from neighboring counties are looking at proposing wilderness areas, such as in the Book Cliffs north of Moab, or Labyrinth Canyon west of Moab.
The area of conflict he sees is north of Canyonlands National Park.
“It’s within the proposed national monument,” he said. “It’s within SUWA’s Red Rock Act.”
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) has proposed the America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in Congress since 1989 for additional lands to be preserved as wilderness.
Jackson, who was a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) employee for more than 30 years, said that the BLM doesn’t consider the area to have wilderness characteristics.
“There are too many roads,” he said. “It’s a high-use recreation area. We know there is potash there. We know there is oil and gas there.”
Scott Groene, SUWA’s executive director, has been in discussions with Bishop’s office.
He said the public lands initiative is still early in the process.
“We’re enthusiastic about participating to protect Red Rock Wilderness,” he said.
SUWA has been encouraging individuals to contact President Obama to ask him to use the Antiquities Act to create the Greater Canyonlands National Monument by presidential proclamation.
Groene said that SUWA is willing to negotiate with other stakeholders
“At this point in the process we’re not taking public position on things. If there is an agreement here, everyone will have to give up something. Agreement depends on the total package,” Groene said. “If we have success with legislation, it may end the need for a Greater Canyonlands National Monument.”
“If we come up with a proposal, there would be no need to use the Antiquities Act,” Bishop said.