Emery County


  • March 9th, 2021

    This Friday, March 12th, marks the second anniversary of the Emery County Public Land Management Act becoming law as part of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. 

    Muddy Creek Wilderness.

    The Emery Act is one of the largest wilderness bills in a decade to become law, protecting 663,000 acres of public land as designated wilderness while also creating the nearly 217,000-acre San Rafael Swell Recreation Area and protecting 63 miles of the Green River under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.


    But as the two-year anniversary of the Act approaches this week, the Utah Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been haphazard at best in its implementation of protections directed by Congress, and is even advancing a new motorized travel plan for the region that would maximize off-road vehicle abuse despite the Congressional mandate to prioritize conservation in the region. 

    World-class landscapes like Muddy Creek, Labyrinth Canyon, and Desolation Canyon have been designated wilderness for two years now, yet you wouldn’t know it on the ground. 

    Illegal motorized use in these areas has gone largely unchecked, boundary signage is woefully inadequate, and public information is slim. 

    Taken together, the BLM has left public land users guessing about where activities like motorized use is- and is not – appropriate. Among the issues that persist two years since enactment of the Emery Act:

    • The BLM has failed to address illegal off-road vehicle use that continues to occur within designated wilderness areas and the San Rafael Swell Recreation Area. This includes failing to take actions to remediate and rehabilitate areas, including closing illegal trails, installing adequate signage, and providing educational information to the public.
    • The BLM has prioritized actions such as coal leasing, gypsum mining, and helium exploration over proactively managing designated wilderness and the recreation area.
    • The BLM is currently considering designating over a thousand miles of new routes in the heart of the San Rafael Swell. Inventory maps released as part of the BLM’s “scoping” phase of its travel planning process would inundate the Swell with new motorized vehicle routes, forever changing this iconic area from one with diverse recreational opportunities to essentially a motorized playground, directly contravening the Act’s intent of conserving the area for future generations.
    • One month before it was formally designated as wilderness by the Dingell Act, the BLM rushed to issue a lease to drill for helium in the heart of the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness. SUWA, along with conservation partners, have sued the BLM for failing to take a hard look at the potential climate harms from the fracking project and failing to provide a reasoned basis for offering this land for leasing in the first place. 

    It is our hope that the Biden administration will focus the Utah BLM on conservation management, and in doing so will work to prioritize the implementation of protections established by the Dingell Act. 

    Labyrinth Canyon.

    For more, check out our story map of lands protected in the Emery County Public Land Management Act.

     

  • February 24th, 2021

    The Bureau of Land Management is accepting public comments for a new travel management plan for the spectacular San Rafael Swell. With the designation of new wilderness areas in the Swell in 2019, and with the BLM’s poor track record of over-designating new routes through this kind of planning, your comments are important. SUWA staff attorney Laura Peterson rejoins us to talk about the San Rafael Swell Travel Management planning process and what you can do.

    Tell the BLM to fulfill its legal obligation and keep motorized trails out of wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and other sensitive or inappropriate areas in the San Rafael Swell.

    Wild Utah is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Wild Utah’s theme music, “What’s Worth?” is composed by Moab singer-songwriter Haley Noel Austin. Post studio production and editing is by Jerry Schmidt.

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  • December 19th, 2019

    Last Friday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft travel management plan for the San Rafael Desert in Emery County, Utah that would more than double the number of miles open to motorized use—forever changing the area’s stunning and remote wild lands, and turning them into a playground for off-road vehicles.

    The San Rafael Desert is a sublime area of Utah’s backcountry, encompassing the newly-designated Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness and wilderness-quality lands such as Sweetwater Reef and the San Rafael River.

    Federal law requires the BLM to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. Instead, the agency’s draft travel management plan for the San Rafael Desert would inundate this remote area with off-road vehicle routes, increasing the miles open to motorized vehicles from 300 miles to more than 775.

    Click here to tell the BLM its draft plan for the San Rafael Desert is unacceptable and fails to minimize damage to natural and cultural resources.

    Labyrinth Canyon. © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    Among other things, the BLM’s preferred alternative would:

    • Designate as open to motorized vehicles more than 300 miles of routes that are reclaimed, reclaiming, or do not exist on the ground.  Designating these routes is unnecessary and will damage desert soils, vegetation, riparian areas, cultural resources and wildlife habitat.
    • Designate as open to motorized vehicles popular non-motorized areas such as Moonshine Wash (from the trailhead to the slot canyon), June’s Bottom, and along the San Rafael River.

    The San Rafael Desert travel management plan is the first of thirteen travel plans the BLM will complete over the next six years as a part of a court-supervised settlement agreement with conservation and off-road vehicle groups. The plans will determine where motorized vehicles are allowed on some of Utah’s wildest public lands.

    Tell the BLM to fulfill its legal obligation and keep motorized trails out of wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and other sensitive or inappropriate areas in the San Rafael Desert.

    The BLM is giving the public only 30 days during the busy holiday season to review its proposed travel management plan and submit written comments.

    Click here to submit your comments by January 13th.

    Also be sure to check out our story map for more information, including maps and photographs of currently-designated and proposed motorized vehicle routes.

  • February 26th, 2019

    We’re delighted to tell you that the Emery County Public Land Management Act just passed the U.S. House of Representatives and now heads to the president’s desk for his signature. (Yes, he’s expected to sign.)

    Take a moment to appreciate just how historic this victory is.

    For more than twenty years, the Utah delegation has put forward lousy bills that would have sold the San Rafael Swell short. SUWA opposed all those bills. And now, after a year-long fight, what began again as terrible legislation will instead extend much-needed protection to some of Utah’s most beloved redrock landscapes—places like Muddy Creek and parts of Desolation and Labyrinth Canyons.

    Muddy Creek wilderness in the San Rafael Swell. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    This happened because of people like you. Your emails, phone calls, and contributions made the difference—showing our congressional allies and opponents alike that the American people care about protecting Utah wilderness.

    Thanks to you and our Utah Wilderness Coalition allies—the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council—we’ve made this legislation deserving of the places protected.

    The result? 663,000 acres of wilderness will now be protected in Emery County! (Click here to view our story map showing what the bill protects.)

    We’re grateful to our congressional champions, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-CA 47), who each challenged an earlier, flawed version of the bill—flaws that have now been largely addressed.

    These lands belong to all Americans, and wilderness bills like this one can only succeed if Utah politicians recognize the national significance of their protection.

    To be sure, there are still lands in Emery County and elsewhere deserving of protection, and we will continue to work every day to protect all of Utah’s magnificent redrock wilderness.

    But today, it’s time to celebrate.

    Thank you for being a critical part of the movement to protect Utah wilderness.

    If you live in Utah, please call Representative John Curtis’ office at 202-225-7751, and Sen. Mitt Romney at (202) 224-5251 and thank them for seeing this legislation through.

    If you live in California, please call Representative Lowenthal’s’ office at 202-225-7924 and thank him for his hard work to enact this legislation.

  • February 26th, 2019

    Utah’s Iconic San Rafael Swell Nears Wilderness Protection as Part of Public Lands Package Passed by U.S. House of Representatives 

    Contact: Scott Groene, Executive Director, 801-712-5034, scott@suwa.org

    Jen Ujifusa, Legislative Director, 801-791-2598, jen@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (February 26, 2019) – In response to today’s passage of the Emery County Public Land Management Act by the U.S. House of Representatives as part of S. 47, the Natural Resources Management Act, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) executive director Scott Groene issued the following statement:

    “Now that both the Senate and House have passed this legislation, only the President’s signature is needed to protect 663,000 acres of Utah’s iconic San Rafael Swell and Desolation and Labyrinth Canyons as designated wilderness. After a year-long fight, what began as terrible legislation will now extend much-needed protection to some of Utah’s most beloved redrock landscapes.

    “With our Utah Wilderness Coalition allies- the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council- and thousands of Americans across the nation, we’ve made this legislation deserving of the places protected.

    “There are still lands in Emery County and elsewhere deserving of protection, and we look forward to working with the Utah congressional delegation and other members of congress to that end.

    “We’re grateful to Senator Dick Durbin and Rep. Alan Lowenthal, who each challenged an earlier, flawed version of the bill—flaws which have now been largely addressed. These lands belong to all Americans, and wilderness bills like this one can only succeed if Utah politicians recognize the national significance of their protection.

    “We appreciate the efforts of Sen. Hatch, Rep. John Curtis, and their staffs for seeing the bill through.

    “At a time when our nation’s public lands are under assault by the Trump administration, this legislation is good for Redrock wilderness. Passing this legislation involved compromises, and worthy landscapes were left out. Nonetheless, this bill is good for Utah and good for the United States.”

    Additional Resources

    More information, including maps and photographs of the protected region, is available here.