Emery County has certainly been put through the wringer in regards to land use proposals for the San Rafael Swell. Under the shadow of large-scale wilderness designation proposals the county attempted a Heritage/National Conservation Area (NCA) bill in 1998 and a revised NCA bill in 2000 only to see them shot down in Congress. And now the county's national monument proposal has been derailed by the recent referendum vote-an election that also kicked the monument proposal's most ardent supporter out of office.
In the wake of the past election a number of people appear to be asking the same question: What, if anything, comes next?
The topic was brought up at last week's Public Lands Council meeting, where, understandably, there wasn't a lot of vigor for the discussion. Victorious opponents of the national monument are also asking themselves what their role and ideas should be in the future.So the question remains, what next? From what I have heard, read, and can imagine, there are several possible alternatives lingering about-there are undoubtedly others, but these are the ones currently bobbing at the surface.
1) A National Monument despite the vote. I personally think this option is dead....at least for a few years. But among opponents of the monument proposal (including those who have admitted to seeing black helicopters) there are those who think it's not quite dead yet. As evidence they point to a recent Salt Lake Tribune editorial encouraging a monument designation despite what 2,500 (actually 2,151) county residents voted. In addition it is pointed out that the BLM monument process has not ended. In the absence of support by the governor and county commission, the BLM effort is most likely just treading water until an official termination letter arrives from the Bush administration-but stranger things have happened.
2) Revive the NCA concept. An interesting thought, especially with a new congressional representative and a changed national political landscape-but certainly not an easy task with special interests from all sides ready to pounce. And it isn't readily apparent whether or not there are any potential promoters of such an idea left standing. A lingering irony of the struggle over the San Rafael Swell is that while Emery County pioneered the recent promotion of the NCA concept, they have never been able to push it through congress despite almost identical legislation being passed for the Colorado Canyons NCA in western Colorado.
3) Forget it all and let the Swell recede into obscurity. I personally wish this one was possible. It was the area's relative anonymity that initially drew me to the San Rafael Swell-unfortunately those days appear to be over. An assistant of mine recently catalogued more than 300 articles on the San Rafael Swell that have appeared in local, state, national, and international papers during the past several years. Now while the county's high profile proposals have certainly accelerated this notoriety, the fact is that large-scale wilderness proposals permanently changed the dialogue, land designation options, and visibility of the San Rafael Swell. It is a befuddling irony that the ardent promotion of wilderness has contributed to diminishing the Swell's get-away-from-it-all value.