I am writing concerning the proposed Emery County Public Land Management Act of 2018, also know as HR 5727 and S 2809. I make my observations from the perspective of someone who has lived and worked in Emery County for over 40 years. I especially love the San Rafael Swell and have spent untold hours enjoying and exploring this beautiful area. The geology of this area even inspired my later professional vocation.
I also write from the unique perspective of someone who was involved with the early development of nearly identical legislation that was advanced out of Washington County in southwest Utah over a decade ago. From this experience, I have to agree with the legendary philosopher Yogi Berra who quipped, “It is like déjà vu all over again.”
The parallels between the Washington County Lands Bill and the developing Emery County Public Lands Management Act are striking. Most importantly, the main intended purpose of both bills was to have the local counties legislate how their lands would be managed rather than through sweeping and restrictive national designations such as National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, or extensive wilderness areas. It was intended that a local bill would bring a measure of certainty to the public land management in the Counties.
Despite these good intentions and with much time and effort, that goal was not met. The Washington County Bill designated extensive wilderness areas, established not one but two National Conservation Areas, introduced other environmentally restrictive designations such as Wild and Scenic River segments, and ignored local travel management input. The goal to introduce certainty was met only to the extent that these restrictive designations were established through the County bill rather than through legislation advanced out of the environmental community. The designations are now certain! Unfortunately, even with these concessions the preservationists continue to demand more.
The downfall for Washington County’s interests began when the collaborative process that began in the County was moved to Washington DC. There, the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Bennett worked primarily with the environmental lobby to develop the final language and boundaries in the bill. Partially as a result of the negative effects of this legislation, Mr. Bennett did not make it back to the general election. Then, when the negative points in this legislation were discovered, it was too late to make any corrections.
I see the same thing happening with the Emery County bill. A heroic effort has been made by many local concerned individuals. Many of their efforts are now being backtracked. The initial drafting of proposed legislation in 2012 was acceptable to the local folks in that it would establish a Recreation and Historical Area that would be reflective of the nature and historic uses of the area, but as this bill continues to be reworked in Washington DC, the local benefits of this effort are being eroded, primarily local access and recreation.
It is becoming more apparent with every revision that the intent is now to just get something written that can be passed in Congress (because groups such as the Sierra Club won’t oppose it), rather than getting a bill passed that would actually benefit Emery County. Do we really want to pass something that the Sierra Club or Wilderness Society likes? My assertion is that this has become a bad piece of legislation because it has been changed to no longer guarantee traditional uses, traditional access, and would actually codify many of the same things it was intended to prevent.
The Emery County Commissioners should now assert their authority to assure that this legislation benefits Emery County first! The following questions would be appropriate: Does this bill provide reasonable certainty that additional future onerous land use designations such as expansive wilderness or National Monuments will not be imposed in the future? Is this legislation primarily directed toward Emery County interests, or are other, including large environmental interests, being served first? Finally, does this proposed bill reflect the culture of Emery County? As now proposed the answer is No, No and No. This legislation was instigated in Emery County and should primarily benefit the citizens of the County. If it does not, it is worse than no legislation at all.
I would urge those interested in how the public lands within Emery County are going to be managed, especially as this relates to public access and uses, to contact the County Commissioners and ask that they fully understand the negative implications for continued access and motorized recreation. They have a veto power that should be used to keep legislation that is not in the best interests of the County from advancing. Don’t let this bill become law with negative language that will forever negatively impact this area.
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