SUWA is pleased to announce that we, along with our conservation partners, have reached an agreement with Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) on land conservation in Daggett County. In short, it should result in the protection of many worthy, remarkable lands in northeastern Utah.
None of this would have been possible without thirty years of tireless effort by activists, supporters, and staff to protect the redrock. It is because for many years our supporters across the country—in places like Illinois, Pennsylvania, California, and New Jersey—have brought cosponsors to America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act that we are here. It is because activists in Utah and nationwide are pushing for Greater Canyonlands National Monument that we are here. It is because people fought in the ‘80s and ‘90s to stop bad wilderness bills that we are here. This is an outgrowth of the work of thousands of unsung heroes. Many thanks to all of you who have helped to bring this day about.
Also, we owe our conservation partners a debt of gratitude for their help in reaching this agreement. We were joined in this effort by the Grand Canyon Trust, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club, and The Wilderness Society.
A little background. Last year, Rep. Bishop announced that he would pursue a sort of grand bargain to address public land issues in eastern Utah; he asked rural counties to come forward with proposals for public lands within their boundaries. One of the first to volunteer was Daggett County.
Daggett County, nestled in the northeast corner of the state, shares a border with Wyoming and Colorado. It is Utah’s least populous county and contains remarkable wildlands. These run the gamut from the redrock-topped Diamond Breaks; to the beautiful Red Canyon, formed by the Green River; to the snowy peaks of the Uinta Mountains, Utah’s highest range.
Daggett County’s initial proposal for the area was low on wilderness. However, SUWA staff worked for months to change that. In particular, our eyes and ears on the ground, Ray Bloxham, distinguished himself once again as the most knowledgeable field expert on BLM issues. His expertise did much to persuade the county to accept wilderness.
Our agreement highlights 33,254 acres of BLM as wilderness. This includes our Lower Flaming Gorge, Dead Horse Pass, and Diamond Breaks units. North of the Green River, our Goslin Mountain, Home Mountain, and O-Wi-Yu-Kuts areas will be protected as part of a 31,000-acre conservation area with wilderness-like protections. Utah’s largest existing wilderness area, the High Uintas, will be expanded by nearly 50,000 acres in the county. The cherry on top is the protection of fourteen miles of the Green River as part of the Wild and Scenic River System.
Naturally, this deal involves more than wilderness. Part of this agreement will include a federal/state land exchange that will remove the threat of development in conservation areas while allowing development in more appropriate areas (in actuality, the centerpiece is the state acquisition of an existing natural gas storage facility on federal land that is already in operation). The agreement also resolves R.S. 2477 claims in the county: the state and county will get recognition for many of their claims but they must abandon all claims that conflict with wilderness and conservation lands. The county will receive federal acreage adjacent to the town of Dutch John for a shooting range and landfill.
Although the acreage figures are small here when compared to many other counties in the state, the impact is huge. This agreement will protect the lion’s share of lands proposed for wilderness in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act in this region and, hopefully, it lays the groundwork for substantial protection moving forward. Rep. Bishop will now move his Public Lands Initiative to the next county, using this agreement as a model.