Emery County Archives


  • October 12th, 2018

    Sweetwater Reef in Emery County.

    SUWA Executive Director Scott Groene has an op-ed in The Salt Lake Tribune today:

    At the end of his 40-plus year tenure as the longest-serving Republican senator in U.S. history, retiring Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is clinging to the past. And he’s trying to drag Utah with him.

    Hatch’s “Not-so-Swell” bill, the Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018, passed a Senate markup in early October. The bill remains a one-sided proposal from a county that openly admits it is attempting to designate the minimum amount of wilderness it can get away with.

    Hatch’s Emery County bill follows his goading President Trump into eviscerating Utah’s Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments last December — slapping down Native American Tribes, undercutting local businesses and opening some of America’s most spectacular lands for development. It’s an ultimately futile effort, since the boom and bust industries that drove the state’s economy when Hatch first won office in 1977 continue to fade in the rear view mirror.

    Knowing that his terrible bill can’t pass the Senate on its own, Sen. Hatch hopes to attach the bill to an omnibus or unrelated legislation:

    His bill is all about the outdated fantasy that protecting Utah’s public lands harms us as a state. The bill leaves more than two-thirds of the deserving wilderness in Emery County unprotected. It lacks sufficient protections for Muddy Creek, which, as the largest unprotected wilderness in the county, would be a no-brainer in a legitimate bill. It also omits important parts of Labyrinth Canyon, Utah’s premier flatwater multi-day river experience for families, beginners and experts alike. And the bill envisions no protection whatsoever for the San Rafael Badlands, a rugged and incredibly wild landscape that is chock full of unique and precious archaeological sites, where hundreds of new and significant cultural sites have been discovered in the past five years.

    Hatch’s #NotSoSwell bill is a taunt to SUWA supporters like you:

    Hatch intends to force this bill through Congress in the very limited time left in this session, daring us to try to stop him. We think we can. If he wins, it resolves nothing, as wilderness advocates will be back the next day fighting to protect the omitted lands. If we win, it’s back to “Go.”

    Either is a poor outcome.

    It’s not too late to reach an agreement that protects one of Utah’s most treasured landscapes, and leaves the retiring senator with a legacy that would long be appreciated by Utahns.

  • October 4th, 2018

    Sen. Orrin Hatch’s (R-UT) “Not-so-Swell” bill, the Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018, passed a Senate markup Tuesday on voice vote. The bill remains a one-sided proposal from a county that openly admits it is attempting to designate the minimum amount of wilderness it can get away with.

    So now, we must fight. There are still things we can do to fix this.

    Sen. Dick Durbin’s (D-IL) office spent much of last week working to negotiate a better deal, a process cut absurdly short when Sen. Hatch’s office declared that an arbitrary deadline had not been met. Now Sen. Hatch intends to try to ram this legislation through by either sticking it on a behemoth public lands package, or by attempting to inappropriately sneak it on to completely unrelated legislation. 

    This means we need you to contact your Senators and tell them the Emery County Public Lands Management Act MUST NOT PASS as is. 

    The bill leaves more than two thirds of the deserving wilderness in Emery County unprotected. It does not have sufficient protections for Muddy Creek, which, as the largest wilderness unit in the county, would be a no-brainer in a legitimate bill. It also leaves important parts of Labyrinth Canyon unprotected, designating wilderness on only the western side of the canyon corridor, and artificially curtailing boundaries to protect illegal mountain biking routes.  And the bill envisions no protection whatsoever for the San Rafael Badlands, a rugged and incredibly wild landscape that is chock full of unique and precious archaeological sites.

    Sen. Hatch’s counterpart in the House, Rep. John Curtis, is fond of saying that nobody will get everything they want in this bill. But even if those three places were added, only half of the deserving wilderness in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act would gain protection. 

    The other goodies in the bill for the county prove that, in actuality, a tiny band of Emery County officials are getting just about everything they want on lands that belong to all Americans. Not only does the bill fail to protect hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness, it also takes a bite out of an existing Wilderness Study Area to facilitate a coal mine. The bill will make recreation impacts worse in many sensitive areas, and a designation that was to be a National Conservation Area in early versions of the bill has been downgraded to a “Recreation Area,” completely changing the way the BLM will manage the lands. 

    Finally, Hatch’s office removed a federal-state land exchange that would have consolidated scattered state parcels out of designated wilderness and moved them to another area. Done well, land exchanges like these can be a conservation gain. But it became clear that Utah wanted to trade into a disputed parcel of land that the Ute Tribe claims as its own, and rather than telling the State Trust Lands Administration to come up with a better proposal, Sen. Hatch’s office instead chose to sweep the issue under the rug. Now if the bill passes, the SITLA lands would be stranded, and the school kids the Utah delegation likes to use as an excuse to bludgeon public lands will get diddly. 

    There is limited time remaining in this Congress, and Sen. Hatch has limited floor time in which to pass this legislation. Help us make his path more difficult by calling your Senators and asking them to oppose S. 2809, the Emery County Public Lands Management Act. 

    Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121 

  • September 27th, 2018

    There were a few fireworks today during the House Committee on Natural Resources’s markup of HR 5727, Rep. Curtis’s (UT-3) “Not-So-Swell” bill for Emery County bill.

    Rep. Grijalva (AZ-3), the committee’s ranking member, issued a strong opening statement, acknowledging the work Rep. Curtis has put into this legislation, but highlighting all the many things still wrong with the bill. He specifically called for more protections for Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek, and the San Rafael Badlands, and for resolution to the Ute Tribe’s concerns about the land exchange the bill facilitates.

    At the outset, Rep. Curtis offered an amendment in the nature of a substitution (ANS), which serves to change the underlying bill being debated. The amendment fixed the travel plan we’d long had concerns about, but also made some things worse. For example, it downgraded the National Conservation Area in the San Rafael Swell to a National Recreation Area, which would put conservation on the backburner in the eyes of the BLM.

    Some of Rep. Curtis’s fiercest critics came from his own side of the dais. Rep. Gosar (AZ-4) offered a string of amendments that would actually make this bill even worse, removing a mineral withdrawal and removing Wild and Scenic river protections. His amendments were all defeated squarely, but not before he offered at least one argument we agree with: that the lands in question are federal lands, and all Americans should have a say in their management. We couldn’t agree more, Rep. Gosar.

    That’s why our champion in the House, Rep. Lowenthal (CA-47) offered a stirring defense of the special places that have been left out of the bill, and offered an amendment to add additional Wilderness protections for Labyrinth Canyon and Muddy Creek, and a National Conservation Area for the San Rafael Badlands. Rep. Curtis had complained earlier that nobody gets to have a “winner take all” bill, but the truth is, even if Lowenthal’s amendment was adopted, the bill would only protect half of what’s in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. Unfortunately, the amendment did not pass.

    Rep. Hanabusa (HI-2) offered an amendment that would ease the Ute Tribe’s concerns by defining Indian land as any land within an Indian reservation. This amendment was defeated on a party line vote, 21-17.

    The bill ultimately passed out of committee, but not before the mark-up showed why no conservation organizations support this legislation. It’s a step backward for conservation, and Rep. Curtis doesn’t seem to want to fix that. He is still only catering to the desires of Emery County—in fact, he went as far as to say he would turn the land over to the county if he could: “If they had stewardship—believe me, I would love to wave a wand and give them the land, but this is the next best thing to it — to ask what they would do with the federal land in their area.”

    But these are all American’s public lands. Keep emailing your members of Congress and asking them to oppose this legislation as it continues to move throughout both chambers.

  • September 14th, 2018

    It was an interesting week for the Emery County Public Lands Act. The bill, sponsored by Rep. John Curtis and Sen. Orrin Hatch and introduced in May of this year, would affect 1.4 million acres of land proposed for wilderness designation in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. The legislation has yet to reach a point where it could receive broad support from the conservation community as it fails to protect critical wilderness landscapes and includes objectionable provisions that would have far-reaching implications for the remarkable public lands in Emery County.

    SUWA staff members took journalists on an overflight of Emery County on Wednesday, September 12, 2018. Watch the GoPro video above as our friends at EcoFlight fly over Labyrinth Canyon. Click here to watch the story on Fox13 News.

    Wednesday morning we learned there would be a House Natural Resources Committee markup less than 48 hours later, on Friday. This was remarkable in that markups generally happen with significantly more notice. Whether this was an intentional attempt to push the bill through the House without anyone having a chance to review new amended language, or the result of hasty and disorganized lawmaking, is anyone’s guess. Either way, we received new language for the legislation and jumped into gear analyzing the bill and providing information to our congressional champions. While the House committee markup was ultimately cancelled (again, for reasons unbeknownst to us, though some are blaming Hurricane Florence), we’ve had a chance to dig into the issues and continue to have concerns with the legislation.

    While at first blush the Emery County bill boasts wilderness and National Recreation Area (NRA) acreages that may seem impressive, a closer analysis of the bill reveals fatally flawed legislation. From what we’ve seen of the new, proposed bill amendment, the legislation:

      • Entirely fails to protect remarkable and critical intact wilderness landscapes as wilderness. This includes large portions of Labyrinth Canyon—including the entire eastern side of the canyon system—and vast portions of the remote Muddy Creek region. As proposed, the bill would designate less wilderness than is currently protected for wilderness character as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) or Natural Areas.
      • Rolls back existing WSA protections to facilitate coal mining in the Book Cliffs.
      • Includes unprecedented giveaways to the State of Utah in the form of recreation and public purpose conveyances. The legislation would hand over control of nearly 10,000 acres of high-value public land to the State of Utah for expansion of Goblin Valley State Park. The State could then charge fees for access and develop new amenities and motorized and non-motorized trail systems.
      • Authorizes a land exchange between the federal government and the School Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) that fails to identify federal parcels for acquisition, and fails to ensure protection of lands rescinded from Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments and other wilderness-quality lands.
      • Allows the State of Utah to continue its federal court litigation seeking highway rights-of-way through designated wilderness, instead of resolving Revised Statute (R.S.) 2477 issues.

    We anticipate a markup of the legislation in the House and Senate sometime later this month. In the meantime, we’ll continue to attempt to improve the bill to a point where it could be supported by SUWA and others working day in and day out to protect the wilderness lands of southern Utah. Absent the changes necessary to make this legislation one that is deserving of the landscapes it will impact, we will work tirelessly to ensure that the bill does not pass into law.

  • August 30th, 2018

    More than 300 passionate wilderness advocates poured into the Salt Lake City Main Library for the People’s Hearing on the San Rafael Swell last night. The auditorium filled to overflowing as Utahns showed up to call for greater protection for the San Rafael Swell and surrounding wild lands.

    Speaker after speaker described how the Emery County Public Land Management Act (H.R. 5727/S. 2089) fails to do justice to the globally significant wild lands in the San Rafael Swell and nearby Labyrinth and Desolation Canyons. The Act could determine the future of 1.5 million acres of scenically spectacular wildlands that are also laden with cultural artifacts, including extraordinary rock art.

    Frustrated by the failure of Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative John Curtis to provide a meaningful opportunity for people outside Emery County to help shape a public lands bill for the region, the Utah Wilderness Coalition and fifteen other organizations hosted the “People’s Hearing” so those outside the county could express their views. Senator Hatch and Representative Curtis were invited but declined to attend.

    Scott Groene, Executive Director of SUWA, started off the evening by describing how the proposed Emery County bill is actually a step backwards for conservation. “The bill is worse than the status quo,” said Groene. “[It] would designate less wilderness than already has protection as Wilderness Study Areas or Natural Areas. Over 900,000 acres of deserving wild lands are left unprotected as wilderness. At the same time, the bill makes off-road vehicle abuse worse by enshrining 800 miles of off-road vehicle routes, effectively perpetuating an old, illegal and overturned travel plan.”

    Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski decried the Emery County bill as a “long-term plan to rip up this landscape” and criticized the Utah delegation for failing to provide opportunities for public input. “Without this People’s Hearing happening here tonight,” she said, “there is no public forum on this issue.”

    Shaun Chapoose, member and former chairman of the Ute Tribal Business Committee, described the bill as “another attack on our tribal lands and resources.  Another modern day Indian land grab just like Congressman Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative from a couple of years ago.”  He added, “The Ute Indian Tribe is yet another voice that did not get a seat at the table when they were drafting this bill. We found out about the bill in the days before it was introduced.”

    Chapoose, who also encouraged the crowd to become good stewards of the land they occupy, received a standing ovation from the crowd.

    “In the morning when you get up, when the sun is just rising over the mountains, when the animals are already up: how many people take that for granted?  If we do not take care of the land, people will look back in the future and say people should have done something to take care of this land.”  —Shaun Chapoose

    Lauren Wood, a third generation river runner who helps her family operate Holiday River Expeditions, an outdoor adventure company, said the company was not asked for their input, despite the fact that they have been based primarily in Emery County since 1973 and operate rafting and biking trips in the San Rafael Swell, Desolation Canyon, and Labyrinth Canyonall wild areas affected by the bill. “They speak of public process but those cherry-picked to represent the ‘public’ do not represent the whole, and the whole is exactly what we need if we hope to have a chance in this beautiful and very climate changing state.”

    “You can’t protect the lower drainage of a river and not protect the canyons and creeks that drain into it; the impact to the resource is cumulative.  Land parcels, like stakeholders, can’t be cherry-picked if we want a chance for a legitimate future for wilderness or communities in our backyard.” —Lauren Wood

    Dennis Willis, who worked for over 30 years as a rangeland, recreation and wilderness planner with the Bureau of Land Management in the region, called the bill “a minimalist approach to wilderness.” Willis described how the baseline for the bill was not an authentic assessment of how many acres of wilderness-quality lands actually exist in Emery County, but a “totally discredited, bogus and flawed inventory” from the 1980s. Willis decried the Utah delegation’s complete deference to the local county commission.

    “The local voice is important, but it shouldn’t be the only voice. Yellowstone should not be managed by residents of Cody, Wyoming.”  —Dennis Willis

    Jerry Spangler, a professional archaeologist and executive director of the Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance, described how the bill will irrevocably damage archaeological sites in the area. “They want to permanently designate vehicle routes as open without doing the surveys necessary to find out if those routes will harm archaeological sites. Yet we know from past experience that hundreds and hundreds of sites could be harmed, and the courts have ordered them to complete inventories.” Spangler highlighted the Molen Reef area, a landscape rich in Native American rock art, that the bill would throw open to oil and gas leasing. “Only 1% of the area has been inventoried,” he said.

    “The BLM has never gone out and looked. If they did, they would find a wealth of very important rock art sites. You can’t manage if you don’t have that information.”  —Jerry Spangler

    Samuel Graham, an immigrant from Venezuela who made Utah home “to be closer to the clarity of spirit which the desert provides,” said “for constituents like me, public lands are the only place we can escape the demands of the city.”

    “Originally, my family and I fled Venezuela, a country which lost the moral battle for its people. The first class I attended was civics, where I learned about the values of America and the symbols that represent those values: Statue of Liberty for diversity, our constitution to empower people, the vast untouched West to represent the spirit. Now the battle for America’s morality is here and it starts with protecting our public lands.”  —Samuel Graham

    Robert Davies, physicist and climate change educator, detailed how the bill failed to consider the need to protect large landscapes to help avoid, and mitigate, the impacts of climate change.  “Much of the damage we have done cannot be undone. But so much damage yet to come can be prevented. We know how: species need habitat,” said Davies.  “Astute public policy would keep this habitat, and the whole of the Swell, intact and unbroken.”

    Many more individual citizens spoke on behalf of protecting the San Rafael Swell.  A few highlights:

    “These lands are why people live here, why people come here. We don’t have a coal plant on our license plate. We have an arch and a skier.”
    —Peter Jensen

    Like other redrock pilgrims, I’ve run Desolation Canyon, I’ve hiked down Muddy Creek with my family. I’ve clambered through slot canyons sliced through the Reef. I’ve come upon wild horses at Cedar Mountain on my way to camp on the Moroni Slopes. I’ve photographed the Black Dragon pictograph and that universe of Native spirituality pecked into the cliffs at the Rochester rock art site. This bill does not adequately protect these astonishing landscapes.” —Stephen Trimble

    “I want to speak for the people who inhabited the Swell a long time ago and who left behind galleries and galleries of irreplaceable rock art. The Emery County bill gives no protection for this precious part of all our heritage.”
    —Diane Orr, Utah Rock Art and Research Association

    “I would like to ask Senator Hatch and Representative Curtis, have you seen the San Rafael Swell?  When you are out in the quiet and solitude of Mother Earth, do you feel the divine spirit?  I ask you to search your soul and see if this bill should be set aside.”
    —Ty Markham, Mormon Environmental Stewardship Alliance