Emery County Archives


  • June 21st, 2018

    This morning, HR 5727, the Emery County Public Lands Management Act—or the Not So Swell bill—was heard before the Federal Lands Subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives. The hearing, like the bill, was not good.

    Though the Utah Wilderness Coalition (which is comprised of SUWA, NRDC, and The Sierra Club), The Wilderness Society, and the National Parks Conservation Association all submitted testimony highlighting serious concerns with the bill, there was no opportunity provided for a witness to testify against this terrible proposed legislation.

    At the hearing, Rep. John Curtis of Utah continued to falsely laud the bill as win for all stakeholders. If by “all stakeholders” Curtis meant Emery County Commissioners, then he would be right. There is a long way to go before this bill could be considered a win for anyone who cherishes the deserving wilderness landscapes of the Swell and the priceless cultural resources it contains, and some very serious issues still must be fixed.

    For example, more than 900,000 acres of proposed wilderness is being left unprotected within Emery County, and other lands worthy of protection are being left out simply because they are not within arbitrary county lines. The current legislation would riddle proposed conservation areas with destructive motor vehicle routes, and contains insufficient protections for unique Utah landscapes like Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek and the San Rafael Badlands. 

    Representative Alan Lowenthal, lead sponsor of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in the House, highlighted these deficiencies at today’s hearing. Rep. Lowenthal hit hard on the unprecedented proposal to “cherry stem” routes in a proposed National Conservation Area—saying that this significant loophole renders it a National Conservation Area “in name only” and undermines a legal settlement that found the current travel plan was crafted illegally and requires that it be redone.

    San Rafael Swell in Emery County, Utah. Photo (c) Bill Church

    Rep. Curtis repeatedly said no group is going to get everything they want. But that’s a standard not applied to Emery County, which seems to harbor the expectation that its woefully inadequate proposal for lands that belong to all Americans will be rubber stamped by Congress. The legislation hasn’t changed at all since introduction, and Emery County hasn’t given anything up in an attempt to make this bill a true winner. Rep. Curtis himself said that Utahns are tired of “winner take all” proposals, but that’s precisely what this bill is.

    In exchange for protecting less BLM wilderness than is already a designated Wilderness Study Area or Natural Area, and actually releasing nearly 15,000 acres of wilderness study areas to facilitate a coal mine, the county gets a whole grab bag of goodies. Among the things it would get from this bill:

    • Enshrinement of a travel plan that has already been deemed illegal. In fact, the county is trying to open more roads than are currently open across public lands.
    • 12.5% of any revenue generated from a land exchange that would be triggered by the bill.
    • Over 2,700 acres of federal public land for infrastructure such as a sheriff’s substation, airport, and information center.
    • Increased tourism that will result from the creation of new designations, including an expansion of Goblin Valley State Park and the establishment of Jurassic National Monument.

    All that for a bill that actually rolls back protections! 

    Rep. Curtis is right on one thing: Utahns—and Americans—are tired of winner-take-all proposals. He stated that he is looking forward to continuing to look with all stakeholders, including groups like SUWA, in order to move the bill, and we hope he’s serious.

    Our job is to fight for meaningful protections for Utah’s wildlands, and we will continue to press Rep. Curtis and Sen. Hatch to fix the glaring flaws that make this bill a conservation loss. But if we can’t persuade them, we’ll fight back. 

    Either way, we’ll continue to need your help. 

    If you haven’t already done so, please contact your members of Congress and ask them to oppose the Emery County bill! 

    Thank you for taking action to protect the San Rafael Swell and Labyrinth Canyon.

  • May 9th, 2018

    On May 9, 2018, Senator Orrin Hatch and Rep. John Curtis of Utah introduced “The Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018” — a bill that would significantly impact YOUR public lands in Emery County, Utah.

    In response, SUWA is launching a statewide television ad campaign to raise awareness of the impacts and implications of the new bill on Utah wilderness. The TV ad is complemented by digital and print ads in Washington, DC and in Utah.

    To learn more about the bill and take action, click here.

  • May 9th, 2018

    Bill is a “Big Step Backwards” for Conservation and Wilderness on Public Lands in Emery County, Utah

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: Jen Ujifusa, 202-266-0473, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance jen@suwa.org 

    Virginia Cramer, Sierra Club, 804-519-8449, Virginia.cramer@sierraclub.org 

    Anne Hawke, 202-513-6263, Natural Resources Defense Council ahawke@nrdc.org 

    Washington, DC (May 9, 2018) — Today, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. John Curtis of Utah introduced the Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018, a bill that would significantly impact the management of federal public lands in Emery County, Utah. 

    Emery County is home to world-class wilderness landscapes such as the San Rafael Swell and Desolation and Labyrinth Canyons, and contains more than 1.5 million acres of land worthy of wilderness protection. 

    Conservation groups immediately blasted the bill for offering insufficient protections to the area.

    “The same politicians who instigated and celebrated the illegal repeal of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments are now trying to claim that their San Rafael bill is a ‘conservation bill’,” said Scott Groene, Executive Director, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “In fact, Hatch’s bill represents a big step backwards for wilderness, emphasizing motorized recreation over conservation and leaving more than 900,000 acres of wilderness-quality lands without protection.”

    “This bill represents a rollback of conservation gains for some of the most spectacular places in Southern Utah, and attempts to do an end-run around the courts by undermining a settlement reached by conservationists, the Trump administration, and off-road vehicle advocates that resolved nearly ten years of federal court litigation,” said Bobby McEnaney, Senior Lands Analyst with the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The settlement requires BLM to produce new travel plans for the San Rafael area that comply with federal regulations, minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources, and minimize conflicts between resource users. This legislation enshrines the old, illegal travel plan.”

    “Sen. Hatch’s 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. This NCA would actually limit land managers’ ability to protect these lands for future generations.”

    “This bill fails to provide even the bare minimum of protection necessary for this world-class wilderness area. Rather, it promotes development opportunities that will degrade and devalue these spectacular landscapes, under the guise of a conservation bill. As the rollbacks and concerted attacks on our public lands continue, this bill is simply another attempt to shortchange Utah’s public lands and sacrifice our wild spaces,” said Sierra Club Utah Director Ashley Soltysiak. 

    In addition Sen. Hatch and Rep. Curtis’s: 

    • Fails to protect nearly two-thirds of the wilderness proposed by America’s Redrock Wilderness Act: approximately 900,000 acres of proposed wilderness is omitted from designation.
    • Undercuts a settlement reached by conservationists, the Trump administration, and off-road vehicle advocates that resolved nearly ten years of federal court litigation by requiring new travel plans for the San Rafael area, based on conservation values. Instead, the bill takes the unprecedented approach of excluding all motorized routes from the NCA and Wilderness areas, effectively ensuring that they will remain open in perpetuity. This includes the illegal travel plan routes and additional motorized routes and trails sought by Emery County.
    • Allows the state of Utah to continue its federal court litigation seeking highway rights-of-way through newly designated Wilderness and the NCA, instead of resolving the RS 2477 issues.
    • Removes existing Wilderness Study Area protection to facilitate coal mining.
    • Creates an NCA with management language that is terrible for conservation, including giving undue influence to local and state interests, and allowing new motorized and mechanized recreational development in remote areas.
    • Furthers the state of Utah’s land grab and robs the American taxpayer by conveying federal public land to local ownership and control for no monetary consideration.

    Additional Resources: 

    Comparison of Hatch and Curtis bill to America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act:

    https://suwa.org/wp-content/uploads/ARRWA_vs_EmeryCoBill_2018.pdf

    Corrected Fact Sheet on the Emery Public Land Management Act of 2018:

    https://suwa.org/wp-content/uploads/Emery-Rebuttal-Factsheet-The-Truth-2-Pager.pdf 

    # # #

  • May 3rd, 2018

    As early as next week, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative John Curtis could introduce legislation for the San Rafael Swell and portions of Labyrinth and Desolation Canyons.

    Labyrinth Canyon. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    While we haven’t yet seen a final version of the bill, our review of previous drafts and recent communication with the delegation make us very concerned that this bill could significantly undercut these remarkable landscapes.

    So far, the Utah delegation has refused to compromise on a one-sided wilderness proposal drummed up by local politicians — a proposal that omits Wilderness designation for more than one million acres that deserve protection.

    And from the maps we’ve seen, the boundaries of what would be designated as Wilderness are absurd. For example:

    • Only one side of Labyrinth Canyon would be protected, and the portion that is designated is pitifully small.  
    • The largest intact wilderness in the Swell — Muddy Creek — would be chopped down in size by cutting it up with off-road vehicle routes.
    • None of the western Swell Badlands — Molen Reef, Upper Muddy Creek, Cedar Mountain and similar places — would be given any protection at all.   
    • WSAs would be released in the Sids Mountain region to ensure that off-road vehicle use in those canyons would be perpetuated.   

    While the main failure of this bill would be the lack of protection for the Swell’s iconic wilderness landscapes, we’re also concerned that the bill could include other poison pills:  

    • Control of the southern San Rafael Reef — including areas such as Chute and Crack Canyons — could be handed over to the State of Utah, which would then charge us for visiting what were formerly our lands, with proceeds given to the state or Emery County.
    • The bill may allow Utah politicians to continue their litigation against the United States to force off-road vehicles trails into the same lands designated as Wilderness by the bill.
    • The bill could undo a protected WSA to allow for coal mining.

    From what we’ve seen, there is little or no conservation gain in this bill.  In fact, this bill wouldn’t close a single off-road vehicle route.  No lands that are threatened by leasing would be closed to leasing. We understand that part of the intention of the bill is, in fact, to prevent future conservation gains.  

    Sids Mountain, San Rafael River. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    If the legislation turns out as bad as we fear, then with your support we’ll work to either block it, or work to improve it so that it’s legislation worthy of places like Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek and the San Rafael Swell Badlands.

    We’ve seen the Utah congressional delegation do this over a dozen times before: pursuing legislation for a handful of rural politicians, while ignoring the views of all other Utahns — let alone the American people who all share ownership of these lands.    

    We may know as soon as next week if this is just déjà vu all over again.   

    Stay tuned…