Utah Public Lands Bill is a Missed Opportunity, Conservationists Say

October 2, 2018

Washington, DC, Oct. 02, 2018 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A controversial public lands bill that would affect more than 1.5 million acres of wilderness in Utah may advance to a full vote in both houses of Congress, following passage from a Senate committee on Tuesday and two House of Representatives committees last week, despite stiff opposition from conservation groups.

The Emery County Public Lands Act of 2018, introduced by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Representative John Curtis (R-UT3), would designate less than a million acres of wilderness and recreation areas in the San Rafael Swell and Labyrinth Canyon region of central Utah, an area rich in geological beauty, dinosaur bones, and Native American artifacts, while allowing oil and gas development, coal mining, and off-road vehicle use in other areas.

Conservationists argue the bill falls short in protecting this iconic western landscape.

“The San Rafael Swell and Labyrinth Canyon are among the crown jewels of America’s public lands, and contain some of the largest intact wilderness landscapes in the continental United States,” said Scott Groene, Executive Director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA). “Yet this bill completely fails to protect huge swaths of Labyrinth Canyon, Muddy Creek, and the San Rafael Badlands. To leave these treasured landscapes out of the bill is to miss a once-in-a-generation opportunity to protect these lands for all Americans.”

Rep. Curtis, who introduced the bill in the House of Representatives, says the bill reflects the wishes of local residents and elected officials. “If they had stewardship—believe me, I would love to wave a wand and give them the land. But this is the next best thing… to ask what they would do with the federal land in their area,” he said during last week’s hearing in the U.S. House.

Groene argues the federal public lands impacted by the bill belong to all Americans, and the bill should reflect broader conservation goals, not just local interests.

With Congress set to return home to campaign through November 6, the bill is unlikely to face a full vote until after the election. Groene argues that delay is an opportunity to win the support of the conservation community.

“The public lands in Emery County deserve better, and this bill could pass if it were improved,” Groene said.

For more information, visit http://suwa.org/swell

Mathew Gross Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance 435-259-4316 mathew@suwa.org

Update hourly