This week, we introduced the Emery County Public Lands Management Act of 2018, a historic bill that keeps our lands pristine while also meeting the needs of Utah’s local communities. Reflecting decades of hard work from stakeholders across the political spectrum, our proposal offers a pragmatic solution to one of our state’s most contentious public lands debates.
From the outset, we endeavored to write a bill based on legislative precedent that incorporates the views of local communities and brings everyone to the table. We took this balanced approach because we knew Utahns are tired of the winner-take-all model of public land management. In doing so, we have witnessed renewed enthusiasm from a broad coalition of stakeholders, ranging from recreation groups to conservationists and everyone in between. What unites us is a shared belief that Utah’s most beautiful landscapes—in this case, the San Rafael Swell—can be permanently protected in ways that do not alienate locals or diminish their culture.
When we first began drafting a plan for conservation, many were skeptical—and understandably so. Years of public fights, some even drawing the attention of national media, had damaged trust and weakened historically-strong working relationships. But with persistent, earnest effort, good faith has replaced bad blood, allowing us to break free from the gridlock that plagues our public lands policy. With the compromises woven into the fabric of this bill, we have successfully restored a dialogue and repaired broken relationships—to the benefit of Utah and the nation.
Like any compromise, our proposal is not perfect, but it is undeniably good. Indeed, we believe that this bill represents the gold standard of public lands legislation in the way it brings together disparate groups to agree on a viable long-term solution. Our hope is that the Emery County bill can serve as a model for other Utah counties struggling to reconcile disputes over public lands.
Importantly, this legislation balances the needs of both conservation and access by preserving nearly one million acres while also maintaining access to recreational activities for the millions of outdoors enthusiasts who visit our state each year. Again, our bill conserves nearly one million acres of public land — that’s far more than currently exists in Emery County and far more than Congress has been willing to set aside in years.
Our legislation is not only a win for conservationists; it is also a tremendous victory for Utah’s schools. By ensuring that Utah Trust Lands can be put to better use in the future, this initiative will help finance the education of Utah’s schoolchildren for decades to come. Our proposal empowers Utah State Parks to help manage the area surrounding Goblin Valley State Park — an area that the federal government lacks the resources to maintain properly.
As the most senior Republican in the U.S. Senate and as Utah’s newest congressman, we have approached this legislation from different perspectives. But in doing so, we have been able to build on decades of hard work already done on public lands in Emery County. We believe that this landmark bill ensures that Emery County’s beautiful landscapes and iconic vistas remain protected and accessible for future generations.
By striking a delicate balance, our efforts can serve as a model for future public lands legislation. Nearly a decade has passed since the last Utah county lands bill was signed into law, which is why we call on our colleagues in Congress to join us in supporting this commonsense compromise.
Sen. Orrin Hatch is the president protempore of the U.S. Senate and the chairman of the senate committee on finance. Rep. John Curtis is the Republican congressman representing Utah’s 3rd Congressional District.