Policy Update Sep 12, 2016

Position on HR 5780, Utah Public Lands Initiative

NPCA submitted the following position to members of the House Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Federal Lands, ahead of a hearing on September 14, 2016.

NPCA urges members of the subcommittee to oppose Chairman Rob Bishop and Congressman Jason Chaffetz’s Utah Public Lands Initiative (H.R. 5780).

For over three years, the National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA) has been a stakeholder in the Utah Public Lands Initiative (PLI). We encouraged an open, transparent process for determining land designations based on mutual trust and a commitment to finding common ground, where possible. NPCA’s priorities in the process were to protect and conserve the unique ecological, cultural and recreational values of our national park units while also considering the larger shared landscape. This includes potentially expanding protections around several national park units as well as ensuring that activities on adjacent lands do not impair the air, water, sounds, night skies, views and other values that the National Park Service (NPS) is charged with protecting. Throughout the PLI process, NPCA’s goal was to work toward legislation that would protect eastern Utah’s magnificent landscape, while allowing for a variety of recreational opportunities, appropriate development, and robust local and state economies.

After closely examining provisions in the legislation, NPCA cannot support H.R. 5780 because it would result in a step backwards for conservation in the management of the national park units and the larger shared landscape. In addition, the bill includes language that contradicts and undermines key federal laws including the Wilderness Act, Clean Air Act, and National Environmental Policy Act. While we are pleased to see our priority of expanding Arches National Park included in the bill, we oppose many more provisions of the bill that do not support parks or their adjacent landscapes, and therefore do not consider H.R. 5780 a balanced approach to resolving Utah’s public land issues.

The bill ignores much of the progress made over the past three years and the collaborative approach taken in several of the state’s counties. Overall, the bill is a missed opportunity to protect and preserve some of America’s greatest national parks and their surrounding public lands. Instead, H.R. 5780 would subject much of eastern Utah’s public lands to excessive development and off-road vehicle use, while weakening environmental protections. Even the title of the bill is of concern, “To provide greater conservation, recreation, economic development, and local management of federal lands in Utah, and for other purposes.” These are federal lands and while local input and participation in management of these landscapes is important, these are public lands that belong to all Americans.

Below we outline the provisions of the bill which NPCA opposes due to potential impacts to our national parks, their shared landscapes, and the enjoyment of all Americans.

Division A: Conservation

Title 1: Wilderness

Although we support H.R. 5780 the designation of wilderness in Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in H.R. 5780, the wilderness boundaries are problematic; they do not include all of the recommended acreage in Arches, but do include other developed areas within the parks, which do not qualify as wilderness. In addition, the wilderness management language in the bill contradicts the Wilderness Act and undermines the authority of the NPS to fully manage wilderness resources in the parks. As written, H.R. 5780 would actually offer less protection for lands inside national parks because nearly all of the land designated as wilderness in the bill that is inside the parks is already recommended wilderness and currently managed by the NPS in a manner consistent with the Wilderness Act. We are extremely concerned about the provisions in the wilderness administration language in H.R. 5780 which limit the land manager’s ability and authority to appropriately manage the natural and cultural resources. All designated wilderness should be managed consistent with the Wilderness Act without stipulations and exemptions attached.

NPCA strongly opposes any effort to reclassify Arches and Canyonlands national parks from Class I to Class II airshed status as defined under the Clean Air Act. H.R. 5780 attempts to clarify exceptions to prohibiting the designation of Class I airsheds in new wilderness, but is not clear to which areas the clarification applies (p. 25, line 23-25).

Title II: National Conservation Areas

NPCA is very supportive of protecting landscapes adjacent to national park units and could be supportive of the National Conservation Area (NCA) designation if crafted with strong conservation language. However, the NCA designations included in H.R. 5780 are in name only and do not provide for clear and meaningful protection of the shared landscapes, which in many cases are adjacent to NPS managed areas. The management language for the NCAs contradicts the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, National Environmental Policy Act, and will limit the ability of land managers to adequately manage the resources they are intended to protect.

Although the Indian Creek NCA incorporates a portion of NPCA’s long-standing Canyonlands Completion proposal (which would expand the Canyonlands National Park boundary beyond the natural erosional boundary of the Wingate Cliffs), the NCA proposed in H.R. 5780 would not adequately protect the Canyonlands basin and its many natural and cultural resources. Instead, the NCA would allow for “historic uses”, including grazing and off-road vehicle use, which can be incompatible with adjacent NPS management and threaten park resources. This does not represent a significant step forward in conservation.

Title III: Arches National Park Expansion

NPCA advocated for and supports expanding the boundaries of Arches National Park. However, H.R. 5780 also designates Wilderness within the expansion area with numerous cherry stemmed vehicle routes. These cherry-stems lessen the conservation value of park landscapes and the minor additions to the park; these also were not discussed with the conservation community.

Division B: Innovative Land Management, Recreation and Economic Development

Title I: School Trust Land Consolidations

NPCA has concerns with the large areas where SITLA would trade into federal lands west of Arches National Park and on Hatch Point east of Canyonlands National Park. These areas are all within the Moab Master Leasing Plan boundary, which is a nearly final, stakeholder driven process which looked closely at where and how oil, gas and potash leasing should take place. SITLA land within this area would not be managed under the provisions of the MLP and presents significant threats to park resources if developed for oil, gas or potash. In addition, the bill excludes the trade of a SITLA parcel adjacent to the eastern boundary of Natural Bridges National Monument. NPCA has consistently advocated for a trade of this specific parcel through the PLI process since incompatible use or development of the parcel would have significant impacts on park resources, including its International Dark Sky status.

Title VII: Recreation Zones & Title IX Red Rock Country Off Highway Vehicle Trail

Both of these titles allow for off-road vehicle use and the development of new off-highway vehicle trails adjacent to national park units. This could potentially lead to incursions in the park and damage to park resources. In H.R. 5780 the Klondike Recreation Zone is adjacent to the western boundary of Arches National Park and is established “to promote outdoor recreation (including off-highway vehicle use, mountain biking, rock climbing, and hiking), provide for the construction of new non-off-highway vehicle trails, and to prevent future mineral development” (P. 162). The Red Rock Country Off-Highway Vehicle Trail allows for the development of a new trail linking up several communities in southeastern Utah near Arches and Canyonlands national parks. However, it is not clear through H.R. 5780 where the routes would be located in relationship to the parks. If sited too close to park boundaries, there could be visual impacts and potential incursions into the parks. Encouraging more off-road vehicle use adjacent to Arches and Canyonlands National Parks could create increased dust, noise, and diminished air quality. This, in turn would impact the dark night skies, visibility, natural sounds, viewsheds, and overall visitor experience of millions of people to these parks and their adjacent public lands.

Title XII: Long Term Energy Development Certainty in Utah

This title hands over authority for expedited energy development on public lands within the six PLI participating counties to the state of Utah. The language of H.R. 5780 requires the state to follow the process of federal law, but not the substance. This action could lead to a significant increase in energy development on the landscapes surrounding our national parks, without regard for the impacts on air quality, natural and cultural resources, and the outdoor recreation economy. Opening up the landscapes, particularly at the scale offered through H.R. 5780, adjacent to national parks to energy development with no regard for impacts on the natural and cultural resources or the experience of millions of people who flock to this part of Utah, would be a huge setback for conservation, the State of Utah, and all Americans who treasure our public lands.

In addition, NPCA has been a strong proponent of the Bureau of Land Management’s Master Leasing Plans as an important tool that can more effectively create certainty on the Utah landscape for all sides – whether for conservation, recreational use, or energy development. H.R. 5780 effectively eliminates the development and implementation of Master Leasing Plans by the BLM within the participating PLI counties and will nullify years of cooperative efforts between land managers and local stakeholders who have been working to determine where energy development, recreation and conservation are most appropriate on the landscape around Arches and Canyonlands National Parks. This action will also ensure that other national park units in the area do not receive a similar level of focused planning for potential energy development on the adjacent landscape.

Title XII: Long-Term Travel Management Certainty

This title grants right of ways, in perpetuity, for all paved Class B roads claimed by the six PLI participating counties to the State of Utah. This includes paved entrance roads leading up to and within the Island in the Sky and Needles Districts of Canyonlands. It also gives right of ways to Uintah County of all claimed Class D roads in the county. This can include cowpaths, overgrown two-tracks and routes that have been closed by the BLM and NPS in Uintah County. It also allows the State of Utah to continue litigation for other claims not included in this legislation.

NPCA’s position has been consistent —the counties and state do not have legitimate claims to the roads, paths and trails inside the national parks. Their management by the National Park Service is critical to achieve the flow and volume of visitors into the parks enabling them to meet goals for recreational access and long-term resource protection. In addition, these controversial, permanent rights-of-ways flout current laws and policies governing RS2477 claims and would encourage off-road vehicle use on federal lands where it does not currently occur.

Title XIII: Long Term Grazing Certainty

This title, requiring that grazing on public land within seven Utah counties continue at current levels, “except for cases of extreme range conditions where water and forage is not available,” would limit public land managers’ ability to manage grazing and the significant impacts it can have on natural and cultural resources. This includes grazing inside Dinosaur National Monument and within the Arches National Park expansion. This title also undermines the National Forest Management Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Federal Land Policy and Management Act and Endangered Species Act.

In addition, Section 1303 of this title appears to ensure public land grazing outside the seven Utah counties engaged in the PLI: “this title shall ensure public grazing lands, including areas outside the areas designated in this title, not be reduced below current permitted levels, except for cases of extreme range conditions where water and forage is not available” (P. 197). NPCA strongly opposes any type of provision allowing for existing grazing levels on a statewide basis. This provision impacts other park units including Glen Canyon NRA and Capitol Reef National Park.

Division C: Local Participation

Title I: Local Participation and Planning

Creating an unbalanced, statewide advisory committee to advise the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture on the implementation of the PLI would complicate and bias implementation of this legislation relating to public lands owned by all Americans.

Division D: Bears Ears National Conservation Area

This title creates an 860,000-acre Bears Ears National Conservation Area in San Juan County. Similar to the other NCA’s designated in H.R. 5780, the management language for the Bears Ears NCA contradicts the Federal Land Policy and Management Act and National Environmental Policy Act and undermines the authority of public land managers to appropriately protect NCA cultural and natural resources. Unlike the current Inter-tribal Coalition’s proposal for a Bears Ears National Monument, an NCA would not effectively provide for the healing of the sacred, ancestral landscape, nor for a strong Native American voice in management of the conservation area. It is also not clear whether Natural Bridges National Monument would or would not be incorporated into the Bears Ears NCA. The NCA map for H.R. 5780 indicates that Natural Bridges National Monument would be included in the Bears Ears NCA; if so, NPCA advocates that the monument continues to be managed by the National Park Service.


While we believe the PLI process led to valuable discussions among diverse stakeholders in some counties, and even the identification of areas of unexpected common ground, the resulting legislation represented in H.R. 5780 does not reflect the progress made during over three years of engagement. Instead, all semblance of compromise is overshadowed by broad negative policy provisions, some that were not shared or discussed with stakeholders, and others that NPCA identified as nonviable compromises from the beginning of the PLI process. While NPCA remains committed to pursuing all genuine opportunities to achieve the protection the amazing, dynamic landscapes of Eastern Utah deserve, we do not believe the PLI represents a conservation gain for these public lands. We urge you to also oppose H.R. 5780.