SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah State University student was among a group of high school and higher education student leaders who spoke out against the Public Lands Initiative on Tuesday on the steps of the Utah Capitol.
Logan Christian, a junior environmental studies major, joined students from Brigham Young University, the University of Utah and other institutions and schools in opposing the proposed Public Lands Initiative Act, sponsored by Utah’s Rep. Rob Bishop and Rep. Jason Chaffetz — federal legislation that designates certain federal lands for conservation purposes, certain lands for recreational purposes and other lands for economic development purposes. Only lands in Summit, Duchesne, Carbon, Uintah, Grand, Emery and San Juan counties would be affected.
“As a college student, I have learned the power that research has for uncovering the truth,” said Christian in prepared remarks he gave at the rally. “In doing so, we found that there are, of course, multiple sides to this issue. But it also became abundantly clear that the PLI has one big issue in and of itself. The majority of voices have been left out, and there is a significant bias towards developing fossil fuels over protecting lands, not a compromise between the two. For these reasons, we stand in firm opposition to the Public Lands Initiative.”
After the rally the students delivered a letter addressed to Gov. Gary Herbert, President Barack Obama, Sen. Orrin Hatch, Sen. Mike Lee, Rep. Mia Love and Rep. Chris Stewart.
The letter asked these government officials to use the Antiquities Act to create Bears Ears National Monument in Southern Utah, “securing these lands for our future.”
The Antiquities Acts allows the president to create national monuments to protect public lands, and Bears Ears, home to 1.9 million acres of land and 25,000 tribal and 100,000 archaeological sites, is considered prized property of many Native Americans. A coalition is pushing for National Monument status.
Asked for a response to the rally, Lee Lonsberry, communications director for Bishop, wrote in an email, “Rep. Bishop would just remind all folks that he is still open to input and welcomes all specific suggestions and comments about the PLI discussion draft. They can submit their input via UtahPLI.com.”
Once Bishop’s office is done collecting feedback on the PLI, the representative will introduce the bill to Congress.
According to information about the PLI on Bishop’s website, over 65 detailed proposals were submitted by local governments, Native American tribes and interested stakeholders representing more than 120 different interests, to assist lawmakers in writing the legislation — a strategy that combined the PLI into “a single compromise plan.”
The information on Bishop’s website said PLI works to provide “certainty and opportunity” for all types of land users, noting the plan would bring increased mineral and energy production.
“While some may oppose provisions related to multiple-use, these opponents should support the fact that the conservation provisions outnumber opportunity provisions by a 4-to-1 margin,” the information about PLI on Bishop’s website states. “Compromise is key to legislation.”
But in an interview after the rally, Christian disagreed the PLI symbolizes compromise.
“If you’re going to call it a compromise then you have to address the majority of Utah citizens and not completely ignore requests from a coalition of Native American tribes that have held these lands sacred for hundreds of years,” Christian said. “How it currently stands, the Public Lands is completely inadequate; it’s a public lands giveaway.”
Christian was referring to the fact that some Native Americans told media outlets the PLI draft bill “adds insult to injury,” and conservationists say it does more harm than good.
Christian also called PLI a fossil fuel development bill.
“They think they’re creating jobs — which is true, they do create jobs — but it’s temporary; it’s boom and bust,” the USU student said. “These companies come in and extract, and when the wells run dry, the town overnight vanishes, loses jobs, displaces families. In the long run, it’s much worse for the county than providing sustainable forms of income. … These are public lands that we travel to, and they’re incredibly tarnished when you start throwing oil wells in.”
Samantha Hawkins, a BYU student who helped organize the event, said the student voice on the PLI matter is an important one and adds a unique perspective.
“Our generation seems to be more active in taking a stance on environmental issues. Students frequent these lands for recreation and for solitude far more than any other demographic,” she wrote in an email.
She continued, “We care about the state of the earth, and we want our children and grandchildren to be able to experience the same lands that shaped our friendships, our education, our faith and our entire world view. The PLI rolls back protections from these lands that we care so deeply about, which is why we want to raise our voices against the PLI.”