Emery County sites

Following recent bruising battles over the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, located in regions just south of Emery County, it’s a little surprising that county leaders signed onto a proposal that will completely halt resource development in the impacted areas and lock up a third of the county’s land mass in highly restrictive designations. 

by Marjorie Haun

Emery County, an arid rural county in the heart of Utah’s high desert country, is under attack by an unlikely cabal of Republican politicians, tourism-obsessed local leaders, and progressive environmental groups. H.R.5727, the Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018 was introduced into Congress by Utah Representative John Curtis (R), and will place 97 percent of existing wilderness study areas covering some 150,000 acres into permanent, restrictive wilderness designations. The bill will impact nearly a million acres of land in total, as well as several miles of the Green River, through the creation of new wilderness and conservation areas. The “Jurassic National Monument” will also be created as a new tourist attraction. Though many of the lands in question are already managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and SITLA (Utah State Institutional Trust Lands), the bill’s provisions with further limit public access and economic opportunities in Emery County.

Following recent bruising battles over the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, located in regions just south of Emery County, it’s a little surprising that local leaders have signed onto a proposal that will completely halt resource development in the impacted areas and lock up a third of the county’s land mass in highly restrictive designations. According to the Emery County Progress:

These conservation areas will have permanent protection from new roads, mining, drilling, and other forms of development. At the same time, traditional public access will be preserved through existing roads and trails, and existing grazing, hunting, hiking, rafting, climbing, and other outdoor activities will continue. 

Although the bill does not pass muster for some radical environmental organizations such as The Sierra Club and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), which believe it doesn’t go far enough, other green groups, including The PEW Foundation, Backcountry Horsemen, The Conservation Alliance, The Outdoor Industry Association, and Trout Unlimited are in support of it.

Co-sponsored by Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (Hawaii), a hard-left Democrat, the bill is being touted by supporters as “bipartisan.” Some locals, however, feel that their needs have been sidelined so Curtis can gain the traction needed to push the proposal through Congress. The current version of the bill has been largely stripped of provisions that would protect locals from Bureau of Land Management (BLM) overreach. The BLM has a history of hostility towards local interests in Utah. Emery County included language in the 2017 version that pursued the concept of “regulatory security.” Since the BLM regulates activities on federal lands, including grazing, recreation, hunting, and resource development, locals worry that they will have little say in how lands impacted by the Curtis bill will be used. Unfortunately, it appears that locals in Emery County have not fought to restore those 2017 protections to the current version of the bill.

Some Emery County locals are alarmed by the bill Curtis has introduced. Tory Ward-Killian, a Huntington resident and owner of a local automotive business says in a letter to the editor in the Emery County Progress:

“It makes no sense to me. For example, the Curtis bill designates Wilderness where roads and trails are currently allowed by BLM. Yet the Congressman has completely removed important parts that would attempt to keep these routes open. Does Congressman Curtis think groups like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) WON’T try to close those roads?

All the “good” parts in the 2017 Emery County plan that Congressman Curtis removed were there for a reason. It took decades of meetings and field trips to develop, and every word was in there because the people of Emery County thought it was important…”

Killian also told Free Range Report, “Over the years, I remember Emery County officials saying they wanted to do what is right for our county. But this bill isn’t what Emery County had in mind. I’m not sure why, but this Curtis bill looks like a gift to big money wilderness activist groups and their lobbyists. Who would have thought the swamp water of Washington DC crept all the way to Emery County, Utah?”

Brian Hawthorne, a truck driver from Emery County familiar with the proposal’s evolution says, “In comparing the 2018 Curtis bill with the 2017 Emery County legislation I was reminded of the lessons learned as National Conservation Areas(NCA) and National Monuments across the West developed their management plans. One key lesson was whether it was a Monument or NCA, the language in the enabling document is critically important. In addition, counties in Southern Utah learned that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) wasn’t always keen to follow some directives included in the enabling documents.”

Hawthorne continues by citing lessons learned from the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, saying, “The best anecdotal example is livestock grazing on the Grand Staircase National Monument. Although President Clinton’s proclamation referenced grazing as an established use that would continue, the BLM almost immediately began efforts to drastically reduce grazing allotments.”

Some locals whose lives and jobs depend on access to the designated areas are also concerned about restrictions to motorized travel and other recreational activities on another 150,000 acres in the county. Because wilderness areas are generally off-limits to motorized travel and technical rock climbing, new restrictions will impact OHV enthusiasts, climbers, hunters, and people with physical limitations.

The areas detailed in the bill include:

San Rafael Swell Western Heritage and Historic Mining Conservation Area (336,467 acres)

Wilderness Areas

•Candland Mountain (12,338 acres)

•Crack Canyon (25,747 acres)

•Desolation Canyon (173,320 acres)

•Devil’s Canyon (8,630 acres)

•Horseshoe Canyon (north) (26,226 acres)

•Mexican Mountain (74,503 acres)

•Muddy Creek (65,652 acres)

•Nelson Mountain (7,447 acres)

•San Rafael Reef (59,880 acres)

•Sid’s Mountain (75,403 acres)

Wild and Scenic River Designation (54 mile segment of the Green River)

Land Management and Conveyances

•Temple Mountain Cooperative Management Area (7,792 acres)

•Goblin Valley State Park Recreation and Public Purpose Agreement (100,000 acres)

•Jurassic National Monument (2,543 acres)

Although Congressman Curtis and certain tourism interests tout the bill as being popular in Emery County, there are clearly dissenting voices. As Brian Hawthorn says, “The Curtis bill needs a lot of work to restore balance.”

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