Brooke Larsen

As a young person, Utah native, red rock enthusiast and wilderness advocate, I am dismayed to read Representative Rob Bishop’s draft Public Land Initiative (PLI) bill. On Jan. 20, Congressman Bishop released the draft PLI, the result of an over-three-year effort to reach compromise on public land issues in eastern Utah. The PLI is described as collaborative, but the draft PLI disregards youth voices, disrespects tribes and ignores requests of the conservation community.

My fellow young leaders of Uplift — a climate action group for the Colorado Plateau —share my dismay. We grew up in Salt Lake City, or on the reservations; in Las Vegas; Gallup, New Mexico, and Denver. Our families hail from within a stone’s throw of Four Corners, and we have made the Colorado Plateau our home. Our mission is to empower and unite young leaders to address climate change on the Colorado Plateau.

In response to the draft PLI, we, as youth of the Colorado Plateau, are raising our voices. We won’t risk inheriting the results of this devastating proposal. The PLI as written would fail our generation and future generations by disrespecting diverse voices and enabling the destruction of some of our country’s last best wild places, leading to an intolerable increase in the region’s contributions to climate change.

We do not accept a loss of wilderness. When considering the 4.6 million acres of wilderness-quality lands at stake in the seven counties covered by PLI in eastern Utah, the draft bill proposes to protect a pathetically meager 1.7 million acres as wilderness. Even these “protections” contain various loopholes, including lax air quality standards for our country’s most pristine landscapes. This inadequate proposal is a disgrace to the wilderness legacy of this country. We refuse to endanger the biodiversity of the region due to our species’ greed. We refuse to let the few places in which young people today can experience silence and solitude fade. We refuse a future in which we must explain to our children why we allowed our last wild places to disappear.

We do not tolerate disrespect for tribal voices. Uplift finds strength in diversity. Therefore, we condemn the disrespect shown toward the Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition (BEITC). Not only does the draft PLI fail to protect essential cultural areas, it also fails to elevate tribes to an equal footing in the management of their ancestral homelands. In addition, the PLI bill could place limits on the Antiquities Act, preventing future presidents from protecting culturally significant areas. The failure of the draft PLI to meet the requests of the BEITC increases the urgent need for President Obama to designate the Bears Ears National Monument. Fully protecting Bears Ears is a necessary step in restoring respect and reaching toward equality.

We demand the PLI address climate change. Currently, the draft PLI not only fails to address the predicted impacts of climate change on the region, it exacerbates them. In reality, this draft bill could be called the “Oil and Gas Initiative” because it would tip the balance on public lands away from preservation and toward even more fossil fuel extraction. With the acute understanding that we will see massive changes in our environment due to human-induced climate change, we say keep it in the ground. The time to take action on climate change was yesterday; don’t put Utah and the Colorado Plateau further behind. We want our children to come of age realizing the potential of the Colorado Plateau as a global model for adaptation, rather than a ruined landscape left by their predecessors.

Finally, the draft PLI fails to create an inclusive community. Uplift highly values community and believes collaboration is a noble and necessary goal for an inclusive and sustainable future. However, the draft PLI only includes the values of a few and alienates many. To disguise this bill as collaboration is nothing more than political deception. The failure to create an honest collaborative process does a great disservice to the collaborative conservation movement in the region. We know we must do better. We hope to inspire the compassion and integrity needed for true collaboration.

Edward Abbey, a well-known voice for Utah’s wilderness, once said, “The idea of wilderness needs no defense. It only needs more defenders.” Its defenders are rising, and we demand our voices be heard. Those with a vital interest in the future of Utah’s public lands, especially youth voices, must urge Utah’s congressional delegation and other elected officials to begin again. This time we recommend building a diverse, ground-up collaboration where youth and tribal voices are included and true consensus is the overarching goal.

Brooke Larsen is an Uplift organizer and graduate of Colorado College in environmental policy. She grew up in Salt Lake City.