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Bill to Protect Emery County Public Lands Advances

The famous rock formations of the San Rafael Swell could gain federal protections under a new bill. (Don Graham/Flickr)
The famous rock formations of the San Rafael Swell could gain federal protections under a new bill. (Don Graham/Flickr)
October 3, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY - Nearly 1 million acres in Utah's Emery County are one step closer to gaining increased protections.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday approved the Emery County Public Lands Management Act, sponsored by Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. John Curtis, both R-Utah. Popular rock climbing and hiking areas around the San Rafael Swell would become part of more than 500,000 acres of protected wilderness if the act becomes law. It would be the first wilderness-area designation in Utah since 2009.

Erik Murdock, policy director for the climbing and stewardship group Access Fund, called the bill a step in the right direction for conservation efforts in Utah.

"This is a really pristine, beautiful area that can be used by a lot of different recreation groups, as well as its conservation values," he said.

Other protections in the bill include a 337,000-acre National Recreation Area and a new 2,500-acre national monument to protect an area rich in Jurassic-era dinosaur fossils. It would also add 63 miles of the Green River to the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System.

Emery County Public Lands Administrator Ray Petersen said the bill represents years of planning with state and local governments, residents and other interested parties. In a highly partisan Congress, he said, the legislation shows compromise is possible.

"The intent was not to please all the people," he said. "The intent was to make resource management decisions to protect and manage the resources, and the beneficiaries of that are the people that enjoy those."

Now that it has passed out of committee, the bill still would need approval of the full House and Senate before it becomes law.

The bill's text is online at


Support for this reporting was provided by The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Katherine Davis-Young, Public News Service - UT