Utah BLM Lags in Protecting San Rafael Swell as Two-Year Anniversary of Dingell Act Approaches

This Friday, March 12th, marks the second anniversary of the Emery County Public Land Management Act becoming law as part of the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. 

Muddy Creek Wilderness.

The Emery Act is one of the largest wilderness bills in a decade to become law, protecting 663,000 acres of public land as designated wilderness while also creating the nearly 217,000-acre San Rafael Swell Recreation Area and protecting 63 miles of the Green River under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.


But as the two-year anniversary of the Act approaches this week, the Utah Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been haphazard at best in its implementation of protections directed by Congress, and is even advancing a new motorized travel plan for the region that would maximize off-road vehicle abuse despite the Congressional mandate to prioritize conservation in the region. 

World-class landscapes like Muddy Creek, Labyrinth Canyon, and Desolation Canyon have been designated wilderness for two years now, yet you wouldn’t know it on the ground. 

Illegal motorized use in these areas has gone largely unchecked, boundary signage is woefully inadequate, and public information is slim. 

Taken together, the BLM has left public land users guessing about where activities like motorized use is- and is not – appropriate. Among the issues that persist two years since enactment of the Emery Act:

  • The BLM has failed to address illegal off-road vehicle use that continues to occur within designated wilderness areas and the San Rafael Swell Recreation Area. This includes failing to take actions to remediate and rehabilitate areas, including closing illegal trails, installing adequate signage, and providing educational information to the public.
  • The BLM has prioritized actions such as coal leasing, gypsum mining, and helium exploration over proactively managing designated wilderness and the recreation area.
  • The BLM is currently considering designating over a thousand miles of new routes in the heart of the San Rafael Swell. Inventory maps released as part of the BLM’s “scoping” phase of its travel planning process would inundate the Swell with new motorized vehicle routes, forever changing this iconic area from one with diverse recreational opportunities to essentially a motorized playground, directly contravening the Act’s intent of conserving the area for future generations.
  • One month before it was formally designated as wilderness by the Dingell Act, the BLM rushed to issue a lease to drill for helium in the heart of the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness. SUWA, along with conservation partners, have sued the BLM for failing to take a hard look at the potential climate harms from the fracking project and failing to provide a reasoned basis for offering this land for leasing in the first place. 

It is our hope that the Biden administration will focus the Utah BLM on conservation management, and in doing so will work to prioritize the implementation of protections established by the Dingell Act. 

Labyrinth Canyon.

For more, check out our story map of lands protected in the Emery County Public Land Management Act.