Utah lands safe from federal intrusion, Bishop says
A Wednesday meeting between Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and the Bureau of Land Management ensured that all Utah land held by the federal government is safe from any unilateral decisions by President Obama to impose protective designations such as "national monument" or "wilderness area."
"It's good news for Utah," Bishop said by phone, "because without this kind of commitment, we couldn't start to move forward in a cooperative fashion on some of the land bills that are currently going through the legislative process. … I'd like to make sure that we do whatever's possible to give Utah a greater voice in how Utah lands are managed and how they're going to be maintained in the future."
A presidential executive order is all that's needed to create a national monument or wilderness area. In the meeting, though, BLM director Bob Abbey and Department of the Interior deputy secretary David Hayes promised Bishop and Rep. Doc Hastings, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, that Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar has abandoned plans to unilaterally designate Wild Lands wilderness areas without input from Congress — a transformative policy shift first announced earlier this month.
"I hope the Interior Department upholds their promise to listen to the concerns of local communities and their elected representatives," Hastings said in a news release.
Bishop, chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, intends to address the land-management issues of federal property in Utah on a county-by-county basis.
"Piute County is the one the closest to moving forward at this time," he said. "I'd like to work through all of the counties at some point, and I'd like to have our resource management plan in place so a lot of the uncertainty that is out there on how the federal lands will be managed would be taken away."
Just last week, Bishop introduced the Utah Lands Sovereignty Act, a bill that would forbid the creation of national monuments in Utah by presidential executive order. Wyoming is the only state privy to such an exemption. Rep. Jason Chaffetz co-sponsored the bill, while Sen. Orrin Hatch and Sen. Mike Lee introduced companion legislation in the Senate.
Even though Wednesday's commitments by DOI and BLM to cooperate with Congress apparently terminate any present use for legislation like the Utah Lands Sovereignty Act, Bishop will continue pushing his bill forward.
"The (presidential executive orders) that have been used in the past are off the table for now, but if these people were to go, those kinds of things are still out there for the long haul," Bishop said. "So it would be nice if we could make some changes to make sure there would be no abuses going forward in the future."