What Eastern Utah’s Public Land Initiative Means for Climbers

For the past 3 years, the Access Fund has been representing climbers in a complex seven county public lands management proposal for eastern Utah, known as Congressman Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative (PLI). This landscape holds a huge amount of world-class climbing areas including Indian Creek, Arch Canyon, and Valley of the Gods (all part of the Bear’s Ears Campaign in San Juan County which is one piece of the complex PLI puzzle). The PLI also considers new management policies for iconic climbing areas like Castle Valley and the Fisher Towers, as well as thousands of backcountry climbing experiences found at Labyrinth Canyon, Kane Creek, San Rafael Swell and hundreds of frontcountry climbs in the larger Moab area.

For climbers, there is more at stake in this initiative than has ever been considered in a single public lands proposal. Over the past three years, Access Fund has been at the table alongside federal, state and county level policy makers—as well as a wide range of stakeholders—to ensure that the interests of climbers are protected in this high stakes, multi-faceted initiative. The PLI could resolve many long-standing land use controversies (conflicts related to roads, wilderness, resource extraction, and state lands management) as well as protect world-class climbing, mountain biking, canyoneering, hiking, and boating opportunities in the greater Canyonlands region. If successful, the PLI could result in a wide range of new land designations including Recreation Management Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Conservation Areas, and National Park expansion. The PLI could also designate millions of acres as wilderness, establish new rules for roads and trails, establish zones for resource extraction, and enable state land exchanges. This proposal could help climbers, but there are also several potential drawbacks that could harm recreational experiences and conservation values.

A key piece of the puzzle is the potential for a National Monument (proposals include Bear’s Ears and Greater Canyonlands) covering portions of the southeastern Utah region. Interior Secretary Jewell has told Congressman Bishop (the very influential chair of the House Natural Resources Committee) that President Obama will wait to assess the scope of the PLI before considering a new monument in Utah. Access Fund has been actively engaged with federal, state, and local officials (e.g., Grand, Emery, and San Juan counties), and will now negotiate PLI details in Washington, DC where Congress and the Administration will negotiate this complex legislative package. This work is expected to continue into 2016. Access Fund and our partners will soon be coming to you to help us weigh in to ensure that key policy makers understand how important these climbing areas are to the national and international climbing community. Congressman Bishop plans to release a “discussion draft” in the near future. We will analyze the draft bill and ask you for your support—stay tuned.

For more information, contact [email protected].