The great hall at the Grand Center was standing room only on Friday, Aug. 9 as U.S. Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz held an open house regarding the public lands initiative.
Rep. Bishop, as a member of the National Parks, Forests and Public Lands subcommittee, said that he is trying to bring together diverse groups to determine public land designations for wilderness, recreation and resource development.
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.
Bishop and Chaffetz toured public lands and held open houses in both San Juan and Grand counties on Friday, Aug. 9. A public tour was also held Tuesday, Aug. 12.
Grand County councilman Lynn Jackson opened the meeting that had more than 200 attendees. Jackson began his term on the council in January. He told the audience that when Bishop asked for input from the county, Grand County Council chair Gene Ciarus encouraged Jackson to spearhead the project. Ciarus acknowledged Jackson’s 30-plus years of working with the BLM and asked him to “work with these folks.
Jackson has been working with Bishop, seeing the public land initiative as a means to ensure economic diversity.
“These lands are treasured and revered,” Jackson said. “There are demands and conflicts over use. We can assure a future of diversity within the economy where our children don’t have to leave to find work. We can do this without destroying our scenic beauty.”
Sen. John Hickman from the Utah State Legislature spoke after Jackson’s introduction.
“We all have to live off the land in some way. We all want to make the best use,” Hickman said. “We all live in the same sandbox. We should be able to get along.”
Rep. Chaffetz said he was excited about the possibilities of the public lands initiative.
“Our collective goal is to create the win-win scenario to create some certainty for people at all ends of the political spectrum,” Chaffetz said. “This uncertainty creates angst, challenges. Fundamental fairness is to have certainty in the process.”
He asked the public attending the meeting to offer short, sweet and concise comments – and to remain friendly and respectful.
“I represent Utah to Washington. I’m not here to present something to shove down your throats. I am here for public comment,” Chaffetz said.
Rep. Bishop was the last from the official panel to speak and kept his comments short.
“This is a window of opportunity to create certainty; to preserve lands that need to be preserved, as well as exchange lands to SITLA to increase money for our schoolchildren,” Bishop said. “There is no map now. We want input first.”
Liz Thomas, a field attorney from Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), spoke and expressed appreciation for being part of the process.
Bishop’s office began the process of the public land initiative in April when he sent a letter to 26 different Utah public land stakeholders to gauge their interest in working with a delegation for the public land initiative. SUWA was one of those stakeholders.
Several “Wild Utah” buttons from SUWA were handed out at the door and were worn by approximately half of those attended.
“We are smack dab in the middle of the most spectacular of public lands,” she said. “SUWA and its members are committed to preserving wilderness.”
She said that the organization supports a land exchange to remove scattered SITLA blocks of land from proposed wilderness areas.
Mike Binyon, who said he moved to Moab 15 years ago, expressed the need to preserve wildlands.
“Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever,” he said.
Mike Holyoak said that his family were original settlers of the Moab-area.
“I believe in multiple use of the lands,” Holyoak said. “Ninety percent of the trails we now enjoy were built by cattlemen and miners. I love to see people come and enjoy this country. Just help use continue to be able to make a living.”
Harold Dalton said he had lived in Moab since 1944. He emphasized that the uranium industry created the town.
“The town wouldn’t be here without uranium. It created the school system, provided water, put in streets and curb and gutters,” Dalton said. “It didn’t come from tourist money. It came from the deep pockets of the mining industry. I love that people come out to enjoy the land, but we can’t maintain all of this through only tourism.”
Others, who did not share their names as they made comments, reflected on the role of the BLM. Some stated that BLM didn’t do enough to preserve and protect the land. Others expressed that rules were consistently changing. One stated that as the “dust settled on the revised management plan, there is the proposal for a national monument. The off-road community is wondering, when will this stop?”
Another unidentified man stated that he made Moab his retirement home, but now he hears of proposals of tar sands mining north of Moab, potash mining south of Moab and a nuclear power plant on the Green River.
“If I knew I would be surrounded by this, I would not have made this my home,” he said.
Heila Ershadi, who is running for a Moab City Council seat, was one of the last to express an opinion. She summed up many of the opinions that were offered regarding the balance of managing public lands and how that affects the economy.
“We need to take care of our land, and the people who live here. Extraction industries can bring economic prosperity, but they can also bring serious ecological and public health hazards. Some see tourism as a way to create jobs and protect our environment,” Ershadi said. “Unfortunately, the tourism industry is mostly low-wage and seasonal, and it is entirely dependent on the heavy use of fossil fuels, which means it is dependent on extraction happening elsewhere. What we need are jobs that pay a living wage, and are low-impact or even beneficial to our environment. We have many caring and creative entrepreneurs in our community, and I encourage them to create an economy that benefits Moab in both the short- and the long-term.”