On April 20, President Obama employed the Antiquities Act to protect nearly 15,000 acres in California with a national monument designation. Neither I nor the organization I represent, Save Our Canyons, generally gets involved with protection of lands thousands of miles from where our interests lie in the Wasatch Range. But what caught our interest was a diatribe posted on Rep. Rob Bishop's website lambasting use of the Antiquities Act by presidents, past and present.
We find it ironic that Bishop, R-Utah, calls for "total transparency and public input" when just a few short months ago he introduced HR 3452 and co-sponsored S 1883 the Wasatch Range Recreational Access Enhancement Act which requires the Forest Service to dispose of pristine inventoried roadless watershed lands without the support of the congressman who represents the area, without the support of the mayors of Salt Lake City and County, without the support of the mayor whose city is congressionally required to manage the area for culinary drinking water of over 600,000 people; and without engaging the public whatsoever in the process.
In the same news release the congressman accused the president of circumventing Congress by utilizing the Antiquities Act. He, Talisker, the Canyons Resort and Solitude Mountain Resort and the other Republican members of the Utah delegation circumvented public processes by introducing HR3452 rather than going through public planning processes (the National Environmental Protection Act and forest planning) or participating in ongoing local discussions concerning our beloved Wasatch Range.
Bishop goes on to say that if projects are supported locally, "then they should have no problem passing in Congress on their own merits."
Well. Bishop should then look no further than the Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act (HR 4267), a piece of legislation that is supported by a vast stakeholder process inclusive of local government officials, local business, the ski industry, watershed managers and local communities.
Public open houses have been held, local newspapers have cheered its introduction as a much needed piece of legislation. The legislation is supported by both Salt Lake County and Salt Lake City mayors and local watershed managers.
It also has local support, including that of Snowbird Ski Resort, and was first introduced in Congress in 2010 by Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, who represents this area of the state. If Congress is chomping at the bit to pass things on their own merits, the Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act is awaiting action from Bishop.
Unfortunately, he has chosen to put the lands identified by the public and local leaders on the chopping block for development, not much-needed conservation of highly valued public lands and the future of our community's drinking water.
The inability of Congress to pass broadly supported public lands protection bills, fostered by honest, transparent and inclusive processes, leaves the public with little choice but to start looking to the executive branch in hopes it will protect our national treasures by utilizing the Antiquities Act.
Carl Fisher is executive director of Save Our Canyons, a Salt Lake City based nonprofit dedicated to protecting Wasatch mountains, canyons and foothills. (www.saveourcanyons.org). He lives in Salt Lake City.