An Emery County Update, July 29, 2010

Earlier this month we were sad to receive the word that Emery County Commissioners will not be negotiating a wilderness bill with the Utah Wilderness Coalition.

Throughout the past two years SUWA and UWC staff have traveled thousands of miles and attended countless hours of meetings during what we were told was the “information gathering” stage of the Emery County public lands process. This made sense because this phase of their “process” had no resemblance to any accepted definition of the word–no formally stated guiding principles or sideboards, and no neutral third party facilitator (efforts by the county and SUWA to hire a neutral third-party facilitator were squelched by several outspoken Emery County Public Lands members who accused commissioners of arranging back-room deals with us.) We hoped the next phase of the “process” would actually be a process.

We participated in many fruitful field trips and informative meetings. Recently, however the field trips have ballooned into large groups of people, many of whom seemed less interested in solving specific issues and more concerned about ‘watch-dogging’ the Emery County officials who we’re worked with directly and for whom we have a great deal of respect. The meetings have become quite abusive, not only to us, but also BLM officials.

When we learned in May that the county had begun crafting their proposal, this signaled that most of the information had been gathered and that the formal phase had begun. We wrote Emery County Commissioners a formal letter clearly stating that while we were temporarily stepping back and allow the county to consider their potential wilderness areas, our goal was unchanged: to reach an agreement with them by bridging the gap between their proposal and ours–America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. This give and take would be based on the valuable knowledge we’ve acquired from county officials and other individuals during the past two years. We asked them for their ideas about what the next steps might look like.

Recently, two months after we sent our letter, we called hoping for an update on the next steps of ‘negotiation process’. We were told that there wouldn’t be any—that their proposal would become their bill. Instead they expect us to be another member of a large group of stakeholders whose information will be considered. This would be a terrible political mistake for us and waste the significant work we’ve done to build this into a national issue- and result in far less redrock protected.

We were offering to settle wilderness issue once and for all, and even to drop our current Price Resource Management Plan litigation. Now, if they move forward—if the proposal they’re working on becomes draft legislation we see one of two possible outcomes: Either:

  • we’ll work to amend it in Congress by adding more wilderness and landscape protections, and then beginning the next day, we’ll start working on protecting what remains of ARRWA in Emery County; or, if their bill is bad enough, we’ll kill it.

Regardless, we’ll keep pushing our RMP litigation, which once set aside by the Obama Administration will be re-done to protect more areas. We’ll begin pushing for The San Rafael Swell National Monument.

We’ve learned a lot during our discussions in Emery, including the fact that support for and appreciation of wilderness—especially Red Rock Wilderness—continues to grow. We’re prepared for whatever comes next and we look forward to it.