SALT LAKE CITY — A public lands bill in Emery County establishes a new national park, makes permanent and expands wilderness study areas and sets up a sprawling conservation area in the San Rafael Swell with a nod to recreation, history and cultural resources.
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, unveiled the measure Wednesday, saying it is the result of a broad consensus among many diverse interests.
"So often public lands bills are approached with a winner takes all," Curtis said. "It's this or it is nothing. This bill, every stakeholder had very different interests, but everyone wanted to do the right thing."
Curtis said the bill also has an original co-sponsor, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, D-Hawaii, who is the ranking member of the Subcommittee on Federal Lands.
"We are getting some great support," he said, noting the bipartisan backing.
Multiple groups or entities are in favor of the bill, including American Whitewater, Emery County, the Conservation Alliance and SEMA, an organization of off-road enthusiasts.
Gov. Gary Herbert praised the bill, called the Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018.
"It's an important bill and is a great example of what can happen when members of a community set aside differences and work to find solutions that will benefit the county, its residents and the state of Utah."
Some environmental groups, however, blasted its provisions.
“(This) bill is a giveaway to Emery County and a loss to the people who love these public lands,” said Athan Manuel, director of public lands protection for Sierra Club. “Truly world-class landscapes like Labyrinth Canyon and Muddy Creek, which deserve full wilderness protection, are instead given paltry protection under the guise of a national conservation area that is riddled with anti-conservation language. "
Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the measure prioritizes motorized recreation over conservation and provides off-roading in new, remote areas.
Opponents also point out that the bill fails to resolve the fight over so-called RS2477 rights-of-way and allows the litigation continue over access.
The bill proposes:
• Moving 436,643 acres of wilderness study areas in Emery County into permanent wilderness areas and expanding them to 577,986 acres
• Establishing the 383,380 acre San Rafael Swell Western Heritage and Historic Mining National Conservation Area to conserve and protect the recreational, cultural, historical, educational, natural, scenic and wildlife resources of the area
• Expanding Goblin Valley State Park by 10,000 acres, leaving the new addition as federal land, with considerations for state resources to improve visitor experience
• Trading out 100,000 acres of school trust lands in that area for lands to provide more benefit to the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration's permanent trust fund for school beneficiaries
• Establishing the Jurassic National Monument comprising 2,453 acres
Hatch said the bill provides a lasting solution to some tough public land issues in Emery County.
“It’s the product of 23 years of effort and over 3,000 meetings spent responding to the needs of stakeholders across the ideological spectrum — from environmental groups to the grazing community and everyone in between," Hatch said. "With one bill, we are protecting more acreage than all legislative efforts from the last eight years combined.”10 comments on this story
Emery County was among the first counties in Utah to reach consensus on potential public lands legislation years ago — components that were then part of Rep. Rob Bishop's failed Public Lands Initiative that sought consensus on land issues across a large swath of the state.
Lynn Sitterud, chairman of the Emery County Commission, said the legislation seeks regulatory certainty for natural resources in the county.
"This bill is inclusive of all stakeholders and their interests. It makes sense. It is a better way to make natural resource management decisions," he said. "We will all benefit. "