I have been following the letters in the Progress about the proposed national Monument on the San Rafael Swell. Mr. Williams and Mr. Ward seem to both be convinced that there is a conspiracy by the Emery County Public Lands Council and the Governor to force a monument on the unsuspecting citizens of Emery County. I believe the lands council and the governor think the proposed monument is the best chance we have of maintaining local input on managing the San Rafael Swell.
I would like to remind the citizens of the county how we got to where we are. When I was elected to the Emery County Commission it became apparent that the county, and the other rural counties in Utah, were in a struggle to see who was going to control our local public lands. The environmental community was pushing for large areas of wilderness. The county appeared to have adopted the strategy of "We don't want any wilderness." The BLM was caught in the middle and since the Environmentalists could exert the most pressure, they seemed to be winning. In Washington, DC where the final decision was going to be made the Environmentalists also seemed to have the upper hand. It was obvious that if we continued to just say "no, we don't want any wilderness" the environmentalists were going to win and we would have large wilderness areas.
It was apparent that if we wanted to have any say in the management of our own public lands we were going to have to be proactive and come up with our own positive plan. This is when the Emery County Public Lands Council was established. The public lands council came up with the proposal for a National Conservation Area on the San Rafael. We received many positive compliments on the proposal but it went down to defeat in the congress when the national environmental lobby fought against the proposal.
A revised NCA proposal was submitted a year later. Many of the revisions took care of supposed problems our opponents had with the original NCA. This proposal was also defeated in the congress under intense pressure by the environmentalists. It has become very apparent that the environmental lobby will not let any management proposal generated locally pass in the congress. They can exert sufficient pressure on most democrats and eastern republicans to have their way with congress.
Both of the NCA proposals received strong support by the public in Emery County. We have all become quite sophisticated on public lands issues and realize that if we don't work proactively in our own interests someone else is going to be making the decisions for us. This has been the driving force in the county for a long time. It is too bad that there is now public perception that things were done in secret. I am convinced it was more a matter of timing and circumstances that an intent to deceive the public.
If we are trying to come up with a locally driven method of protecting the land, and we can't get a proposal through the congress what are we going to do? As I see it we have two choices. One, we can sit back and say we don't like any of it and we want things to remain as they have always been. How many of you think that is really going to happen? I personally am convinced that if we do nothing, at some point in the future the Utah Wilderness Coalition's Red Rock Proposal will be adopted by the congress. The next time we get a democratically controlled congress they will probably be able to pass it. This will mean more than a million acres of wilderness on the Swell. The wilderness will come clear up to the private lands in some areas. If that happens we will probably only be allowed to drive on the maintained county roads. Access to the roads and trails we now enjoy will be a thing of the past.
If congress does not pass the big wilderness bill, the next democratic (or even an "environmentally concerned" republican) president can establish a monument with language friendly to the environmental community.
We will be much better off with a monument established by a friendly president, with intent language prepared locally. Language that will protect water, grazing, industry and traditional uses than we would be with either huge wilderness or a monument established with language friendly to the environmental community.
There is no guarantee that a monument will not be changed in the future, but it is not likely. Congress is getting tired of talking about Utah wilderness and they and future presidents will be more likely to worry about other areas than about an area that is already protected. What is almost a guarantee is that if we do nothing we will have either extreme wilderness, or a monument we like even less. Let's quit worrying about whether the lands council met in secret, or whether we just did not bother to go to the meeting. Let's not cut off our nose to spite our face. Let's work together to protect Our Public Lands so that we, and our descendants can continue to enjoy them.