A proposal to expand Utah’s Goblin Valley State Park to include federal lands already heavily used for recreation is a sound and sensible idea that deserves serious consideration. Ideally, it would come to fruition as part of a “grand bargain” process underway to settle land-use disputes in seven Utah counties.
The framework for such a bargain is emerging in Congress behind the work of Utah Rep. Rob Bishop, who is cobbling together a coalition of diverse interests to find agreement on the management of millions of acres that have long been the subject of rancorous disagreement. The process contemplates a series of agreements for land swaps that would require buy-in from state, county and federal agencies, as well as from various environmental, recreational, commercial and energy development interests.
So far, Bishop has managed to keep the necessary stakeholders on board as the process develops, which in itself is an accomplishment worth heralding.
Though diverse in their agendas, the parties acknowledge the value of a coordinated and comprehensive approach to land-use designation. It would bypass legal wrangling that inevitably occurs when state or county land managers move to open land to commercial development over the protests of environmental groups. And it would preclude an act of executive fiat to create a national monument out of federal holdings, which some believe may be on the Obama administration’s agenda.
Bishop’s process involves the disposition of 18 million acres in the eastern part of the state, and the process would likely result in millions of acres coming under wilderness designation. It would finally offer certainty to the various interests competing in their advocacy for different land-use strategies, including industries involved in coal, oil, gas and potash extraction.
The recently announced proposal to expand the 3,500-acre Goblin Valley State Park by 132,000 acres should naturally fall under that process. The park would expand its boundaries into the popular San Rafael Swell, long under pressure from recreation use that has not been closely regulated as it would be under a parks designation. Federal land managers have indicated a favorable attitude toward Goblin Valley expansion.
That proposal and the larger efforts by Bishop are reminiscent of the process of negotiation and compromise that led to legislation in 2009 to forge a long-term land-use plan in Washington County. The process now underway in Washington takes that approach to a higher level.
It is precisely the right approach to bring finality to the disposition of millions of acres of valuable land and quell the long and fractious debate over how and by whom those lands are best managed.