The Utah Public Lands Initiative Act, or PLI, crafted after 1,200 meetings hosted by Bishop and Chaffetz over the past three years, "is rooted in the belief that conservation and economic development can coexist and make Utah a better place to live, work, and visit," their offices wrote in a summary of the bill that would affect 18 million acres of public land in seven counties.
See the highlights of the plan here.
Bishop said the bill rests on four pillars: certainty, recreation, economic development and conservation.
"It will be one of the largest conservation bills in the lower 48 states that has ever been proposed, but in addition to that we want areas open for economic development," Bishop said. "They will be guaranteed for economic development so that we can pay for our schools and provide good paying jobs for Utah citizens. Recreation is no longer just allowed it is guaranteed."
The 65-page draft still has to be finalized, introduced into Congress — Utah Sen. Mike Lee has agreed to be the Senate sponsor — and passed before President Barack Obama leaves office next year.
It is widely assumed Obama will "unilaterally" designate a national monument in Utah, most likely in San Juan County, unless strong conservation measures are approved for some of the state's unprotected scenic and cultural wonders.
The participating counties are San Juan, Grand, Emery, Carbon, Uintah, Duchesne and Summit. Daggett had been the first to propose a plan for inclusion in the bill, but then pulled out of the process after a change in county leadership in the 2014 election.
The draft released Wednesday would afford protective status on 4.3 million acres, including measures to expand Arches National Park; create a small national monument at Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Monument; and designate 41 wilderness and 14 national conservation areas, or NCAs, including 1.1 million acres surrounding Bears Ears buttes.
It would also bar future presidents' use of the Antiquities Act to designate national monuments in the seven counties, although this language has yet to be finished. This aspect of the bill is non-negotiable as far as Chaffetz and Bishop are concerned.
"If we cannot put an end to the constant litigation and dogmatic battles, there is no point in going forward on this. The certainty of what we're doing has to be there, especially if we look at what happened in Nevada where local governments came to an agreement and then last year the president unilaterally changed all of that," Bishop said, referring to the recent designation of Basin and Range National Monument in that state's Lincoln County.
Also in the name of "long-term certainty," the draft would strip millions of acres of impediments to oil and gas development and hand over thousands of disputed routes to the state, including some that apparently cross areas designated for protection.
These provisions drew heated barbs from some conservation groups, which called them "poison pills."
In October 2014, Chaffetz told The Salt Lake Tribune editorial board that disputed road claims would not be part of the bill. Yet these claims are a hallmark of the draft released Wednesday, drawing an intense rebuke from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
Executive Director Scott Groene characterized the draft as an "un-wilderness bill" because it could open much of these public lands to drilling while offering them little meaningful protection — because it authorizes most of the routes that counties have claimed under a frontier-era law, RS 2477, to run through them. Counties can claim title to routes over public lands if they can show 10 years of continuous use prior to the law's repeal in 1976.
"There is no fixing this bill. It is bad for wilderness, bad for public lands and bad for climate change," Groene said. "There's no resolution or balance here. Either the state gets the route, or if they don't get it, they get to keep fighting over it in court. Conservation gets nothing in this [road] provision. It's totally one-sided to give the county commissioners these crazy route claims they have been going after for decades."