The Governor's announcement of a proposal to consider the creation of a San Rafael Western Heritage National Monument has stirred reaction from every side of the public land management debate. This is to be expected. The San Rafael Swell is recognized all over the world, and proposals for its management have been swirling around for three decades.
Unfortunately, discussions on the management of the Swell are usually filled with emotion and rhetoric. For example, two of the most outspoken critics of the proposal are the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the motorized access group USA-All. SUWA claims that we are creating a county four-wheeler park. USA-ALL claims that we are closing the San Rafael to vehicular access. Neither is true, but the conflict embodied in the rhetoric of these and similar groups has been used by the national media to define this monument proposal.
Therein lies the real problem. Wilderness groups have for decades been very successful in convincing Congress and the national media people that our public lands are in great danger from developers, miners, ranchers, and four-wheelers, and that the only hope is to establish wilderness everywhere possible. This is now accepted as fact by many people, especially those east of the Mississippi. In reality, public lands are already protected by many levels of laws and regulations. Also, wilderness is not a solution to all management problems, nor was it ever intended to be. In fact, it often creates more problems than it solves, especially when it is proposed for lands which have had long-standing, traditional uses.
In an effort to bring this so-called "national" discussion home to the people who know and understand the land best, the Emery County Public Lands Council has conducted a long and productive collaborative process. Nearly all stakeholders have been at the table at some point over the years, and their perspectives have been considered with respect. From that effort evolved national conservation area legislation which twice was sent to congress. States such as Colorado copied our legislation and created national conservation areas based on the principles derived from Emery County's efforts. Yet, our legislative efforts were defeated by heavy lobbying from environmental groups, who opposed them for the very reason that we liked them: They demonstrated that local people can determine their own destiny and are very capable of caring for the lands they love. Not wanting to let so much good work go to waste, the public lands council discussed other options under which the concepts and goals developed from our many years of collaboration could be put to use. One idea that came from those deliberations was that of a national monument, based on principles that are important to Emery County citizens. Some of these principles are: The history and human heritage of the Swell are significant and interesting as are its scenic vistas. The personality of the San Rafael is defined by the people who have interacted with it over the years through ranching, grazing, and other historical uses. Valid existing rights must be recognized. Abuses of the land must stop, but appropriate and traditional uses must continue. Finally, there must be continued and appropriate access on recognized, existing roads and trails.
It is from these basic ideals that a national monument proposal was born. It is the public lands council's intent that the final proposal reflect the model that came from our long years of discussions. The problem we face is, once again, one of perception. Already we have been accused of being "ahead of the game;" that the monument is a "done deal" and there will be no chance for public input. This is simply not true. We have proposed a course of action which could lead to a monument proposal being forwarded to the president for consideration.
We are comfortable in doing so at this time only because key decision makers greatly value local initiative and local participation. We have asked for a three to four month process to evaluate and take public input. The Emery County Public Lands Council and the Department of Interior will each conduct meetings to gather facts and take ideas. We do not know all of the details of this process or when it will start, but we know it will be done. At the end of this process, the county commission will evaluate the outcome and make final decisions. Our hope is that the people of Emery County will get involved as opportunities present themselves, learn as much as possible about this proposal and monuments in general, and withhold judgement until they have all the facts.
In the meantime, we should remember that there is a lot of interest in the San Rafael, and many ideas about how it should be managed. Monument or no monument, citizens of Emery County must decide if we would rather take a proactive stance and have some say in the future of the San Rafael, or if we should accept the status quo and wait to see what happens.
The Emery County Public Lands Council has taken a proactive approach to land management issues, as evidenced by our past national conservation area proposals. We are now proposing a process that will consider whether a monument is the best way to manage the San Rafael Swell. Preserving the natural history and human heritage of the San Rafael are
the hub of the proposal, and such traditional uses as ranching, grazing, four-wheeling, and camping are important spokes of the wheel. We envision a monument that is a living museum. Maintaining appropriate access to these beautiful, historical areas is essential to the success of this proposal.
We believe that our collaborative process offers hope that man and nature can interact in a responsible, respectful manner, and that it is not necessary to lock people out to protect land. Our intent is to eliminate abuse, not use, of the Swell. Indeed, we believe that any proposal that does not consider the needs of the people who love to use our public lands is doomed to failure.