A Swell Bill for Utah’s Desert
The winding canyons and twisted juniper of the San Rafael Swell have recently been given management tools to help protect them for future generations. The “Emery County Public Land
Management Act” will now preserve sensitive desert lands in perpetuity. Within the huge region known locally as “The Swell,” are Desolation/Gray and Labyrinth Canyons, sections of river that we love to take trips down. These places are big winners in this conservation package. Some of the tools used to manage Desolation/Gray and Labyrinth will be Wilderness and Utah’s first Wild and Scenic River designation. You can check out an in depth look at what was protected on this interactive map from our friends at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
How It Happened…
Recently a bill was passed that rolled in hundreds of smaller local conservation measures in
almost every state in the country. As part of this “omnibus” bill, 1.3 million acres of undeveloped
land in the West will be put into Wilderness designation. The bill will also permanently authorize
the “Public Land and Water Fund” which provides resources to a myriad of places. The omnibus
package was passed with bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House. The President has just
made it official, signing it into law this past Wednesday. While overall this is a win for
conservation, there were some compromises made, namely some provisions that allow for fossil
fuel prospecting in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge.
For Utah’s Water and Land
Holiday has been sharing these incredible stretches of public lands with our guests for decades. Now it seems the rest of the country is finally catching up. While these red rock lands in south central Utah are not as popular as their national park cousins in Moab and Zion. The Swell has for many years been cowboy country of BLM land. A desert visitor can trek off into the dust, find solitude, and camp pretty much wherever they see fit. There is a freedom to explore. Towering sandstone walls, canyons, and creeks span for miles and miles. Burnt desert bedrock and brushy sage make up the tough landscape. It’s a wild place, beautiful and remote. Because of our ability to explore the region, managers have realized that they need more support in their job of maintaining the balance of recreation, wilderness, and planning for the future.
The bill for Utah in the omnibus package, The Emery County Public Land Management Act would provide just that. It adds over 600,000 acres of wilderness to the region. It creates recreation areas. It will give the managers of the region more money to focus on protection and restoration. For us boaters, there are areas of “Wild and Scenic” river that have been added to some of Utah’s most beautiful and popular canyons.
Labyrinth and Desolation/Gray
Both Labyrinth and Desolation/ Gray Canyons have an added buffer or Wilderness designation on their banks. “Wilderness” provides a guarantee that these regions will be wild forever. Labyrinth is also now protected under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the first of its kind here in Utah. In the first versions of the bill, neither the Labyrinth nor the Muddy Creek Wilderness Areas were
included. After a few speed bumps, all voices were heard and these regions were protected for us all to enjoy and to remain wild for the sake of the river we love.
What it all means
While this a win for conservation in America, it is only the most recent chapter in the story of Utah’s public lands. Take a trip down Labyrinth or Desolation this summer and think about their new designations. It’s because of this bill the rivers will stay how they are, or more “wild” because of them. Over the course of history, we have learned that these designations like Wilderness and Wild and Scenic are the best way to protect the areas we care about for the long run.
Come join Holiday in celebrating this historic victory on any of our Bike and raft trips currently operating in these newly protected places!
Jack Stauss moved to Salt Lake City in 2008 in pursuit of big mountains and wide open spaces. He has spent the last several years both enjoying and advocating for public lands and free flowing rivers. While he’s not typing on his keyboard, he will be backcountry skiing in the Wasatch or exploring Utah’s wild deserts. Read some of his environmental musings at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at @jackstauss on Instagram