As Congress considers a bill that would change management of the San Rafael Swell and nearby areas in Emery County, there has been some confusion over who supports the bill, which is known as the Emery County Public Land Management Act. According to a White House memo, a number of recreation groups support the bill. But according to Jason Keith, the senior policy advisor for the Access Fund, one group that was named as supportive, his group has yet to endorse the bill. He said instead that they are supportive of the process.
Rep. John Curtis of Utah, who is sponsoring the bill, said the bill establishes 380,000 acres of conservation area and 575,000 acres of wilderness for a total of nearly a million acres of permanent conservation. The bill also creates the Temple Mountain Cooperative Management Area, addresses management of lands around Goblin Valley State Park and establishes the 2,500-acre Jurassic National Monument, Curtis said.
“We’ve been working with staff in John Curtis’ office and Orrin Hatch’s office since the early part of the year on this,” said Keith. “They’ve been really good about reaching out and checking in with us on various provisions in the bill … They’ve made some significant changes related to recommendations we made in the bill that improved recreation access out there ... A large national conservation area is being established ... and initially they had an advisory committee that was populated by a bunch of more traditional stakeholders [including] motorized recreation. They created a seat on there for non-motorized recreation to have input on the development of the management plan. That’s a pretty significant thing for us. In the recreation community, we don’t have a whole lot of legal anchors to tie to in terms of getting recognition in legislation … getting seats on advisory committees for planning is a really big part of it for us.”
Keith said that Curtis’ office has been less ideological than previous legislation, particularly the Public Lands Initiative.
“Some might not give them credit for this but compared to a lot of other bills we’ve seen out there, we feel it’s definitely a step in the right direction,” Keith said.
While some conservation groups have endorsed the bill, others remain dubious. The Utah Sierra Club and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance both want more land to be included in the protected areas, among other requests. SUWA has also expressed concern about “cherry-stemming,” the practice of exempting roads from wilderness or conservation area designations, resulting in long, thin strips of unprotected land.
Keith said that for his group to endorse the bill, they would need some changes related to rock-climbing access.
“Some of the anchors that climbers use, we want to make sure that there’s a good mechanism for maintaining what’s there and we haven’t got that language yet but they’re seriously considering it, or some version. So we feel like we might get a lot closer to actually endorsing the bill if we can get that language in there,” Keith said. “I’m really hopeful that some of the conservation groups can get what they need to get behind this because there’s just very few opportunities like this to get something positive done. I understand that there’s still some complications for them, especially related to travel management, that they view as a poison pill in this. They want to see more conservation acreage, also more wilderness. I feel like this is pretty far in that direction in that it is truly a balancing act. If we go too much further, the county and some other stakeholders are going to not be supportive. It really is difficult and I’m hopeful we can get there.”