Just last year things were looking desperate for conservation of Utah’s public lands. The Republican-controlled U.S. Congress had allowed the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) to expire, eliminating an important source of money to purchase public land for conservation and recreation. Utah’s congressional delegation was railing against the Antiquities Act of 1906 that allows Presidents to designate National Monuments; Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Representative John Curtis (R-Utah-3) had introduced a very bad Emery County Public Land Management Act full of anti-conservation poison pills.
So it was a big surprise in February when the U.S. Senate passed the Natural Resources Management Act and it was not terrible. This 662-page bill is a package of about 100 pieces of public lands legislation including permanent funding for LWCF and a cleaned-up version of the Emery County Bill. It gives wilderness protection to 663,000 aces in the San Rafael Swell; gives Wild and Scenic River designation to sections of the Green River corridor through Desolation Canyon and Labyrinth Canyon ; creates a new Jurassic National Monument at the Cleveland-Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry; upgrades Golden Spike to a national historic park; and enlarges Goblin Valley State Park by 6,261 acres (the land reverts to federal management if it’s not used as a state park).
No one side got everything they wanted, but no stakeholders came out a total loser either. Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah) voted in favor of the bill, while Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) voted no and issued a petulant statement against LWCF.
Representative John Curtis (R-UT-3) deserves thanks for his role in listening to stakeholders in order to revise the Emery County portion of the bill.
The next step is for the legislation to pass the House so that it can be signed into law.