WildEarth Guardians

A Force for Nature

Select Page

Off-highway vehicle use. Photo Credit: BLM

Emery County Public Land Management Act – Privatization of public lands

Emery County Public Land Management Act

Compromise? More like a devil’s bargain. The Emery County [Utah] Public Land Management Act’s original sponsors, then-Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative John Curtis (both R-UT), touted it as a compromise between conservationists and extractive industries. In reality, the bill would sacrifice the incredible natural features of Emery County—including the famous San Rafael Swell and the Book Cliffs, renowned for backcountry hunting—for off-highway vehicle trails, coal mining, and oil and gas development.

Explore all public lands privatization schemes.

Emery County Public Land Management Act Location

Emery County Public Land Management Act

This bill would bring coal mining, oil and gas development, and expanded motorized use to land renowned for its incredible features and backcountry hunting.

Public Lands Explained

Find out what public lands are, who manages them, and what their designations mean from Guardians’ Public Lands Guardian.

Photo: U.S. Forest Service

Emery County Public Land Management Act – The Details

Conservationists have long sought to protect the incredible natural features of Emery County, Utah, including the Green River’s Labyrinth and Desolation Canyons and the San Rafael Swell, an enormous fold of sedimentary rock measuring 75 miles by 40 miles that rises 1,500 feet above the surrounding landscape. Local and state officials, as well as opponents of federal management of public lands, have opposed protections at every step.

So when the Emery County [Utah] Public Land Management Act was introduced in May 2018, its sponsors, then-Senator Orrin Hatch and Representative John Curtis (both R-UT), pronounced it “a model for how Utahns can work together to solve public land management questions in some of the most unique/controversial areas of the country.” Public lands advocates can only hope it is no such thing, for the Act is a boon to the fossil fuels and motorized recreation industries—it gives public lands to the state for expanding Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) trails, shrinks a wilderness study area (WSA) to facilitate coal mining, and sets up a land exchange program that will lead to even more coal mining and oil and gas development on what are now federal public lands.

The Act languished on its own in 2018, but Hatch and Curtis convinced Congressional leaders to include it as part of an omnibus public lands bill that nearly passed at the end of the year. The omnibus bill was reintroduced at the start of 2019, which Congress quickly passed as the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. President Trump signed the Act into law on March 12, 2019.

The Dingell Act will give away about 10,000 acres of public land in the San Rafael Reef on the eastern edge of the Swell to Utah. The state intends to monetize the Reef’s popularity with motorized recreationists by expanding a state park, developing off-road vehicle trails and other amenities, and charging an entrance fee to what is now public land. The Act gives an additional 2,700 acres of public lands to Emery County’s local governments, a considerable amount of land given the county’s 10,000 residents.

The Act also fulfills a longstanding goal of Utah’s State Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). The agency, legally obligated to wring maximum revenue from the state’s trust lands, has long wanted to trade the remote, expensive-to-develop parcels it manages in the San Rafael Swell for accessible federal lands with fossil fuels potential elsewhere in the state. The Emery County Act offers up a land exchange program that greases the skids for SITLA by setting tight deadlines for review, prohibiting consideration of alternatives under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), granting exceptions to standard federal appraisal practices for federal lands, and allowing SITLA to select public lands that the Bureau of Land Management hasn’t marked for disposal.

The bill offers one other gift to the fossil fuels industry: it eliminates longstanding protections on nearly 15,000 acres of the Turtle Canyon Wilderness Study Area. This is expected to facilitate coal mining in the Book Cliffs, a premier destination for Utah’s backcountry elk and mule deer hunters.

Hatch and Curtis cloaked their bill as an authentic compromise to resolve longstanding disagreements between conservationists on one side and the resource extraction industries and Emery County commissioners who do their bidding on the other. It is nothing of the sort, but this is no surprise, coming from two politicians who appeared onstage with President Trump when he signed illegal orders shrinking Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante monuments in December 2017.

Don’t Miss Out on Public Lands News!

You’re informed about the most dastardly privatization schemes—now, ensure you stay that way! Join Guardians’ email list and we’ll keep you apprised of what’s going on in the world of public lands. 

Sign up for email list

Public Lands Privatization Schemes

Learn more about the public lands at risk across the United States.

Dairy Syncline Mine

Village at Wolf Creek

Wolf-Creek Pass West View to West wildearth guardians Erik Voss 370

Resolution Copper Mine

resolution copper oak flat region wildearth guardians EcoFlight 370

Ray Mine Expansion

ray mine wildearth guardians EcoFlight 370

Las Vegas Sprawl

las vegas sprawl wildearth guardians EcoFlight 370

OMYA Mining Public Land Sale

desert bighorn sheep bedded wildearth guardians Don McCrady 370

Emery County Public Land Management Act

emery county plma wildearth guardians BLM 370

ONSHORE Act and Federal Land Freedom Act

pump jacks WY federal land freedom act wildearth guardians BLM 370

King Cove Land Exchange

izembek lagoon brant wildearth guardians USFWS 370

National Monument Reductions

natlmonument reduction protest wildearth guardians US Dept Interior 370

How You Can Help

Help protect the magnificent wild places of the West! Be a guardian for public lands by joining the conversation, learning about current issues, and making your voice heard. Together, we’re a powerful force for nature.

Recent Stories From Public Lands

WildEarth Webinar: Fire and Forest Ecology in the American West

June 11, 2021

Our guests cut through years of misinformation and misdirection to make an impassioned, evidence-based argument for a new paradigm of fire and forest management

Read more >

President Biden must keep his climate commitments

September 17, 2021

We simply can’t frack our way to a safe climate, so demand bold climate action and climate justice

Read more >

President Biden must keep his climate commitments

September 17, 2021

We simply can’t frack our way to a safe climate, so demand bold climate action and climate justice

Read more >

President Biden must keep his climate commitments

September 17, 2021

We simply can’t frack our way to a safe climate, so demand bold climate action and climate justice

Read more >

Public Lands Press

Lawmakers must tackle the main driver of wildfires – the climate crisis

Missoula Current | Aug 20, 2021

In 1995, Congress passed the now infamous “Salvage Rider,” which effectively suspended environmental safeguards for three years allowing the U.S. Forest Service to ramp up industrial logging and road building across the American West, including in previously protected ancient, old-growth forests.

Read more >

All Public Lands Op-Eds

Earth Gives Provides New Way to Address the Climate Crisis

PR Newswire | Sep 16, 2021

Earth Gives and its signature event, Earth Gives Day, are focused on driving resources and attention to the work of environmental and climate-focused nonprofits.

Read more >

All Public Lands In the News