A Utah conservation group is calling for more environmental protections in a federal land management bill for Emery County. The group says the proposed bill is a step backward.
Scott Groene is the executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. He and his organization are speaking out against the bill proposed by Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative John Curtis.
“The problem with the existing bill is that it chops these places into little pieces gives protections here or there,” Groene said. “But it doesn’t cover the entire landscape.”
Groene said the bill provides continued protections to areas of land currently protected while opening up other areas of land for coal mining, natural gas and oil leasing, and new mountain bike and off-road vehicle trails.
“You’ve got these incredible landscapes,” Groene said. “For example, Labyrinth Canyon, that are incredibly important for issues of water quality and wildlife but also provides tremendous recreation opportunities to the people who live in the state of Utah. That area ought to be protected as wilderness so it remains the way it is-- a quiet, beautiful place.”
Carl Albrecht represents Emery County in the Utah House of Representatives. He said the bill is an attempt to protect the area enough to prevent a monument designation.
“Once you get a national monument,” Albrecht said, “a lot of those activities are discontinued-- mining, grazing, hunting, some of the activities that the local folks you know enjoy and depend on for their livelihood for.”
However, Groene said these types of protections don’t necessarily have an economic impact.
“With large conservation gains,” Groene said, “they can be controversial at the time, but with the passage of time people tend to accept them. I think what you’d see, the studies show, that protecting places it doesn’t make people richer or poorer, because you are protecting the status quo.”