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Mineral mining and the role of public lands in Utah

An orange industrial machine in a quarry of large and small gray rocks.
Monica Stawowy
Mineral extraction requires industrial equipment and disturbs the landscape.

The mining industry has historically been a large part of Utah’s economy. As Governor Cox highlighted in the resolution, a shift toward renewable energy will require more mineral extraction. Over three quarters of the state is designated public land, with much of it open to prospecting. While Utah has mineral deposits with mining potential, Landon Newell, Attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said selecting sites to mine on public land must be done carefully.

“The key part with the federal lands is that they are supposed to be managed for the benefit of all American citizens … When it comes to the to the Bureau of Land Management, for example, their mandate is for multiple use, and sustained yield. … Multiple use does not mean every use on every area of land. It's totally proper, for example, to manage one area for conservation, while managing another area for extractive mineral resource development," Newell said.

Mining operations are already in place on both private and public lands, including locations like the Spor Mountain in Delta, Utah, where beryllium is mined. Much of the land around Spor Mountain is managed by the BLM, and some land is designated as Wilderness Areas by the U.S. Forest Service.

“Those areas are not appropriate for mining. Right, these are areas that are undeveloped, provide outstanding opportunities for solitude - these are the special places in Utah. And so these areas should be left off the table when it comes to the development of any resource," Newell said.

Newell said, much of the state consists of public lands that are suitable for extraction and development, and with a push toward renewable energy, mineral mining will need to expand.

"I think it's it's a good transition. It just needs to be done in a thoughtful manner. And it needs to take place in the right areas, and not take place in areas that have have more important resources,” Newell said.

Caroline Long is a science reporter at UPR. She is curious about the natural world and passionate about communicating her findings with others. As a PhD student in Biology at Utah State University, she spends most of her time in the lab or at the coyote facility, studying social behavior. In her free time, she enjoys making art, listening to music, and hiking.