Dispatch from San Juan County – No. 4

When we showed up in Monticello
this past Tuesday morning, ten days had passed since Senator Bennett’s loss at
the Utah Republican convention.  The future of the process to determine the fate
of the San Juan—Canyonlands
Wilderness was definitely in doubt when Bennett’s aide, Brad Shafer, cleared the
air.  Brad told us that while Senator Bennett has made no decisions about his
future, he thinks this process is very important.  The Senator made a commitment
to the San Juan County Commission to move toward legislation this year.  If at all
possible, he wants to live up to this commitment.  At the very least, Brad said,
the Senator wants to complete the information gathering stage of the process
and then “hand it off effectively.”  Brad
said that the Senator “established this model.”  Brad doesn’t believe that the
convention was a referendum against this process. 

This meeting focused on the expansion of Canyonlands National Park, or
“completion”, according to former Canyonlands Superintendent, Walt Dabney, who
was representing the National Parks Conservation Association (for the past
decade Dabney’s been director of Texas State Parks and will retire later this
year).  While there were a number of different
ideas as to what the expanded National Park should look like, Dabney’s
statement with regard to what he’s seen during his long Park Service
career—that “we’ve never once got it right”—really stuck with me.  He was referring to how the political process
always gets in the way of good ecology and management when determining
boundaries of areas to be preserved.  With Canyonlands, “getting it right” is
still possible.  The Grand Canyon Trust and other groups all had well thought
out proposals for park “completion”.  The Nature Conservancy stood out in their
opposition to park expansion as it might affect grazing at the Dugout Ranch.

Speaking of getting it right, Liz and I began SUWA’s presentation by
showing the historic map of the “Escalante
National Monument
” which
was proposed in 1936 by Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes.  Sec. Ickes’ visionary proposal of nearly 7,000 SQUARE MILES encompassed wild lands
in San Juan, Kane and Garfield counties.  Political forces shrunk the 1936 proposal of
nearly 7,000 SQUARE MILES down to
what eventually became the 500 square mile Canyonlands National Park
in 1964.  Subsequent designation of Capital Reef
National Park, Glen Canyon National
Recreation Area and the Grand
Staircase-Escalante National Monument
filled in some gaps in
the “completion” process.  Now, adding
lands in our San Juan—Canyonlands proposal to those previously protected lands,
and we’re very close to “getting it right” according to Ickes’ original
dream.  Most stunning is the fact that
the most of the public land left out of that original proposal are still
natural enough—wild! enough—to warrant permanent wilderness protection.

Sjc maps for blog

We continued our theme of showing that ‘access’ would not be impacted by
designating wilderness, using the BLM’s recently completed travel plan.  On the map, the routes which don’t conflict
with the Red Rock bill are shown in black and those which do are in red.  I was shocked to learn that we have NO problem with approximately 82% of the
5000 miles of dirt trails in San

I think most people in the room were, too. 
We showed over a dozen photographs of examples of ghost routes — unnecessary
and redundant routes that conflict with ARRWA – to illustrate to Bennett’s
staff and the County that wilderness designation would have little, if any,
impact on “access” in San Juan County.

I’m proud of how seriously we’re taking this process.  The further into
it we go, the more I realize how much sense America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act
makes.  But I’m also realizing that with issues so laden with history and politics,
and ideology, “making sense” doesn’t necessarily translate to resolution.

Again, the tone of the meeting was calm and polite, due to Commissioner
Adams’ sincere commitment to hospitality.  (During a previous meeting, when
asked how we were ever going to resolve this issue, Commissioner Adams said,
“someone will need to bake a cake.”)  But again, the possibility remains that
the lack of intensity may reflect the fact that many important decisions
affecting the future of PUBLIC LANDS in
San Juan County have already been made.

The last meeting is scheduled for next week. Stay tuned.

Brooke Williams
SUWA Field Advocate