Legal Updates

Utah Congressman Rob Bishop Promises to Release Public Lands Initiative Bill

For the past several years Congressman Rob Bishop (R), representing Utah’s 1st Congressional District, has been promising to reveal a bill encapsulating what he calls the “Utah Public Lands Initiative.” His ambitious plan involves bringing together key state and national stakeholder groups, the Utah Congressional Delegation, Utah Governor Gary Herbert and state and local leaders to create a collaborative and comprehensive process for managing public lands in Utah. Bishop’s initiative has garnered support, albeit cautious, from industry as well as conservation groups. The process included the heavy involvement of counties and is somewhat unique nationally for that reason. The bill promises to support wilderness designations in exchange for measures ensuring continued access to lands for resource development. Additionally, the bill will facilitate Utah school trust land (SITLA) swaps and transfer management of some roads and federal lands to local authorities. As chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, Bishop is well positioned to advance the bill through the legislative process.

In a recent address to the Energy, Natural Resources and Environmental Law section of the Utah Bar Association, Congressman Bishop said that he would “slit his wrists” and those of his staffer if the bill has not been released by the end of 2015. He later stated that he would probably not actually slit his own wrists, but left no such ambiguity regarding the fate of his Legislative Assistant.

Congressman Bishop has declared that the bill, if passed, will provide certainty to public land managers and users. He prognosticates an end to the bitter fighting and distrust that has grown up around Utah public land use decisions in recent decades. It remains to be seen whether the actual proposed legislation can live up to the congressman’s ambitions. Its chances for success are particularly difficult to gauge given that no one has seen what the bill actually says. In any event, for our edification and for the personal safety of certain congressional aides, we are hoping to see the initial version of the bill introduced in the next few months.