Portions of Red Canyon will soon become part of the Lower Flaming Gorge Wilderness under the Daggett County conservation agreement, and this stretch of the Green River will receive a new Wild and Scenic River designation.

When Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) approached us to try to work out an agreement for public lands in Eastern Utah, we knew the odds were long but worth taking.  Now, nearly two years later, we’ve gotten our first returns in the form of an agreement in Daggett County.

Daggett, in Utah’s northeast corner, is the state’s least populous county.  It was not originally part of the region being considered in the compromise and isn’t the heart of redrock country, but it does contain some amazing wilderness.  When the county commissioners showed a willingness to work with us, Daggett emerged as the dark horse lapping the rest of the counties involved.

Our coalition partners in the effort are the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Grand Canyon Trust and The Wilderness Society.  Working together, we were able to get wilderness protection or national conservation area (NCA) status with wilderness-like management for the majority of Daggett County lands we have proposed for protection in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.  These include the redrock of Diamond Breaks and the Green River’s lovely Red Canyon.  There are also significant additions to the Forest Service-managed High Uintas Wilderness Area.

All told, more than 64,000 acres of BLM land will gain wilderness or NCA protections, and 50,000 acres of Forest Service lands will be wilderness—a significant conservation achievement.  The agreement also facilitates a land exchange that will get scattered state trust lands out of those protected areas, in exchange for lands in places where development is more appropriate.

It’s an encouraging first step, and signals to the remaining counties in the process that we’re serious about moving ahead if they are.  Carbon and Wayne counties have already shown they are too unwilling to compromise to be involved.  But Emery, Grand, Uintah, and San Juan counties are still in play.  These counties and their complexities will be more difficult to untangle than was Daggett, with significantly more wilderness at stake.  But after this first breakthrough, we believe it’s worth trying.

—Jen Ujifusa

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, autumn/winter 2014 issue)