High Country News reports that Grand County, on Utah’s border with Colorado, has signed on to the Public Lands Initiative, nicknamed the Grand Bargain. The initiative, started by Republican Representative Rob Bishop, involves swapping developed land for federal wilderness areas to preserve wild places while opening others to energy companies. Grand County’s April 10 proposal means that upwards of 500,000 acres could be designated as wilderness.
Grand County encompasses Arches National Park and the Moab area, Utah’s outdoor recreation meccas. The county has almost no designated wilderness, and 800,000 acres of land are open to oil and gas leasing, according to HCN. San Juan and Duchesne Counties are working on proposals, and three others have submitted or are close to submitting theirs.
In its proposal, Grand County requests 514,000 acres of wilderness in the Book Cliffs area; the creation of a 159,000-acre National Conservation Area; Wild and Scenic status for the Dolores, Green, and Colorado Rivers; and a 2,900-acre expansion of Arches. Holding to the square-mile-for-square-mile nature of the Grand Bargain, any land not covered in the proposal would be left open for oil and gas development; 30,000 acres would be left open for tar sands development.
Once all the county proposals are collected, the bill will move to Congress. “The counties don’t vote on the bill,” Ashley Korenblat, head of Public Land Solutions (a Moab-based nonprofit advocating for recreation planning), told HCN. “Yes, we need their input, but this is federal land, and it’s going to be decided in the U.S. Congress.”