Lands Council Proposes San Rafael Monument
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|THE SAN RAFAEL|
|Click here for the boundaries of the proposed national monument.|
The areas outlined in blue would be the boundaries of the proposed national monument.
A near capacity crowd gathered at the Museum of the San Rafael on Saturday to hear the Emery County Public Lands Council's latest proposal to protect the San Rafael Swell. After years of failed efforts to pass a San Rafael bill for the management of the area the council suggested that perhaps the best way to protect the Swell might be in having President George W. Bush declare it a national monument.
Governor Mike Leavitt, Senator Mike Dmitrich and a representative of Congressman Chris Cannon's office were all in attendance at the public meeting to voice their support for what Governor Leavitt termed a bold proposal.
"This is a very bold action. This is the kind of thing that changes the map forever. I have studied very carefully the process that's being proposed and I am persuaded that it can be done and I am persuaded that if this community decides that this should be done, then now is the time," Governor Leavitt said.
The more than 200 people in attendance for the meeting listened carefully as Wes Curtis and Dennis Worwood of the lands council detailed the actions the county has taken in the past to protect the San Rafael. Twice the county has attempted to have a piece of legislation passed to protect local interests for land management of the San Rafael. The first time was in 1998 and, according to Curtis, it was "our local recipe for land management." The bill was met with a firestorm of protests and was pulled from the floor of the House. The second piece of legislation was sent forward in 2000 and in that version the county made some compromises in hopes if environmental groups wouldn't support the legislation then they would at least not oppose it. This bill was also met with protest and was pulled from the floor of the House after it had been amended to the point where county leadership no longer felt that the people of the area would support it.
County commissioners and the lands council have spent the past year trying to develop a plan that would be more successful. Members of the lands council held a series of meetings with members of the wilderness coalition to attempt to find some common ground, and while they reported that the meetings have met with some success, the differences were still too extreme.
"In the meetings a very good rapport was developed and progress was made, but we haven't been able to bridge the gap that exists," Curtis said.
In looking for options for the county, Curtis said that the council had come upon some "interesting surprises," namely that there is a new and friendly administration that would support the proposal, but only if it was what people of the county wanted.
In detailing the proposal to have the San Rafael Swell declared a national monument, Curtis said that the language for the management of the monument would read as the first bill proposed by the county in 1998 had, which was considered the ideal language from the county's point of view.
The very idea of a national monument leaves a bad taste in the mouth for many in the area after President Bill Clinton created the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. The creation of that monument was met with howls of protest because it was commonly felt it had been forced on Utah without public involvement or support. Organizers of the public meeting were quick to point out that the proposal for the San Rafael was only a proposal and would go no further without public comment and support.
During the meeting Curtis detailed what led the council and county leadership to consider the monument proposal. "We have felt for a long time that the environmental agenda is too extreme. They would eliminate cattle grazing, eliminate roads and that is not in the best interests of our citizens," he said.
By having the area declared a monument it will "give us an opportunity to go back to the original recipe that we came up with in 1998. Rather than go through Congress we would do it administratively," Curtis said.
President Bush could declare the San Rafael a monument under the Antiquities Act, which entitles presidents to declare by public proclamation objects of historic or scientific interest. Unlike the Grand Staircase, which was declared a monument for its scientific interests, the San Rafael would be declared a monument for its historic interests, which is an important difference when it comes to its management.
With a friendly administration county leadership said it was critical that if the county was to do something, that they must act quickly. With the 2002 elections approaching Republican control of Congress could easily shift and with Congressman Jim Hansen preparing to retire, the climate in Washington could be very different. According to Commissioner Randy Johnson, Congressman Hansen has been instrumental for the state not only for what he has been able to do, but for what he has been able to stop from being done.
Under the environmentalist's Red Rock Wilderness proposal, almost 50 percent of Emery County would be declared wilderness. But during the meeting the council and commissioners admitted that even if the area was declared a monument, it wouldn't stop the possibility for wilderness designations. The president cannot declare wilderness, only Congress can designate wilderness areas. But it is felt that if the area was declared a monument it might take some of the pressure off the area for wilderness designations.
According to Governor Leavitt, the key to preventing wilderness designations which would hamper access to public lands rests not so much in legislation or even in a presidential proclamation, but in the quiet title actions underway throughout the state in regards to RS2477 roads. Emery County, along with counties throughout the state, have been mapping RS2477 roads for years and that work continues. Proving that valid roads exist in the San Rafael is the key to access, according to Leavitt. The declaration of a monument would have no impact on that work. "They're our roads and they're our right and in the end I think we will win," the governor said.
If the area were to be declared a monument its declaration would meld with the San Rafael Heritage Area legislation, which is a bill to manage tourism in the area. That legislation is currently being prepared for introduction on the floor of the House.
On several occasions county commissioners and members of the lands council made it clear to the audience that the decision to go forward with the monument proposal rested in the hands of the people of Emery County, but they were quick to caution that doing nothing may in the end be a mistake.
"We can sit back and enjoy the ride, but if we do that we have to be willing to accept what's at the end of the tunnel," said Commissioner Ira Hatch.
Although county leadership admitted that the proposal had not been fleshed out, they said it had reached the point where they needed public input on whether to pursue the idea or let it die. After the meeting Worwood said that written comments on the proposal were three to one in favor of the idea. From here the proposal will be submitted through the governor's office to the Department of the Interior, which will begin the process of soliciting public comments and come up with a final proposal. When that final proposal is finalized, the citizens of Emery County will have the opportunity to endorse or reject the proposal. According to Worwood if the county approves of the final proposal then the president will designate the monument. If the county doesn't like the final proposal, then he will not.