The discussion of how best to manage the fragile canyons east of Salt Lake City has been going on for the better part of a century, but has finally reached the point at which a comprehensive plan — hammered out by a variety of interests that are rarely on the same page — can go forward. Legislation introduced by Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, sets forth the parameters for the execution of the Mountain Accord, a 16-page document that represents consensus among business, environmental and recreational interests, as well as all government agencies with jurisdiction over the area.
Rep. Chaffetz’ bill would give the federal government guidance on implementing collaborative plans that would protect 80,000 acres of land, add 8,000 acres of new wilderness, set permanent boundaries for ski resort expansion and enforce measures to protect watershed and natural resources. It is the kind of action in which there are no winners and losers — only winners. It would ensure future generations are able to enjoy the beauty and recreational terrain of the backcountry in a way that will limit diminishment of that resource. And it will end decades of tussling and tangling over a hodgepodge of would-be master plans doomed over the years by reluctance to compromise.
Rep. Chaffetz has acquired a national profile as the House of Representatives’ chief inquisitor in various matters of high political interest. He is not likely to garner national headlines for his work on the Mountain Accord, though it is certainly among his most important legislative accomplishments. Decades from now, people may or may not remember the email server controversy surrounding former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but they will be better able to enjoy the offerings of a pristine canyon minutes away from an urban center. The proposed bill is also a rare example of parties with disparate interests coming together in the posture of compromise, willing to give up things on their wish list in exchange for consensus.
There is much work left to do, not the least of which will be the formulation of a canyon transportation plan, which may include any number of options, including a railway. Chaffetz’ bill doesn’t dictate how that process will play out, but allows for it to go forward with the input of all stakeholders. The measure marks a turning point from where much debate and discussion — over multiple generations — can now translate into action and ensure that future generations may benefit from lands of incomparable beauty and value.