Of all southern Utah counties with large wilderness potential, Emery seemed the best prepared to undertake a process to work through public lands issues there. They've been actively involved in preparing a number of bills for legislation over the past decade, including a National Conservation Area and a National Monument Proposal.
They have an active Public Lands Council to advise their commission and officials from their public lands and economic development departments, have spent a considerable amount of time for the past year developing a county plan to incorporate as many of the needs of the numerous stakeholder groups as possible. They freely acknowledge that this plan will include wilderness designation.
Two years ago, when we approached county officials about engaging in wilderness discussions, they were well aware of SUWA's record of stopping legislation that we felt offered inadequate protection to the amazing and unique wilderness in Utah, including Emery County. Given this history, they acknowledged our role and invited us to participate.
In the year we've spent in the "information gathering stage"-going to monthly PLC meetings, viewing proposed wilderness on the ground, and driving hundreds of dirt miles during what we've felt have been very productive field trips-we've had many open and frank and productive discussions.
Throughout the process we've developed trusting relationships with county officials and many PLC members. We've all commented that were it up to this small group, we could come up with legislation we could all stand behind. Unfortunately county officials have drawn heavy criticism from local wilderness opponents for working too closely with SUWA, whose interests they see at odds with theirs. This has dampened any early optimism.
Today, the county is moving forward on crafting their own land use bill. We feel that our being directly involved at this point would put us in the difficult situation of needing to object to everything we disagree with, which could potentially be quite a bit. We've recently sent the county a letter advising them that since it seems that the process has moved beyond the 'information gathering' stage, while in no way are we abandoning the process, we are stepping back until their proposal is complete.
Our interest is and always has been America's Red Rock Wilderness Act -protection of large wild landscapes in the San Rafael Swell, Desolation and Labyrinth Canyons. Once Emery County has completed their bill, we look forward to comparing it to ARRWA and working directly with them to address the differences. Until then, we remain interested in their proposal and will fully reengage whenever the county is ready to begin negotiations.