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Carbon residents do not fear Antiquities Act

Published May 4, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

On April 16, Carbon County Commissioner John Jones testified to Congress on the Antiquities Act ("GOP Lawmakers want to strip president's monument power," Tribune, April 16).

I was stunned by his stating that the people of rural Utah "live in fear" of the presidential power to create national monuments. My neighbors and I are not a fearful people.

Further in his testimony, Jones described how the designation of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in 1996, "devastated the economies of Kane and Garfield Counties and the lifestyles of the people live there."

He did not get this picture of devastation from the Escalante Chamber of Commerce ("Escalante thriving," Tribune, Sept. 9, 2011). In the devastating 12 years after the designation, Kane and Garfield counties' population rose by 8 percent, jobs rose by 38 percent and per capita income increased by 30 percent.

By comparison Carbon County should really be in the chips. Along with not being encumbered by a monument, Carbon enjoyed a net loss of federal land within the county.

Several thousand acres of mineral-rich Bureau of Land Management lands in Carbon County were transferred to the State of Utah. Since the Escalante-Grand Staircase designation, Carbon has seen the development of four coal-bed methane fields, a conventional gas field, some limited oil drilling and the opening of a sawmill.

The Lila Canyon Coal Mine opened just across the line in Emery County, with the nearest population center, coal shipping facility and mine service companies all in Carbon County. The monument is closed to oil and gas development, whereas 78 percent of the public lands in Carbon and Emery are available for leasing.

While the population around the Grand Staircase was growing, Carbon County population declined and has just recovered to the 1996 level. Jobs grew by about 3 percent. Per-capita income grew by just 11 percent. In 1996 both Kane and Garfield counties had lower per-capita income than did Carbon. The reverse is now true despite all the extractive industry development in Carbon.

Compounding its economic woes, Carbon County is rated as the least healthy county in the state. The access to medical facilities and providers is ranked ninth out of 29 counties yet Carbon ranks last for overall health. Good access to health care does not overcome behavioral and socio-economic risk factors.

Carbon County has been my home for more than half of my 60 years. I have a passion for this place and appreciation for the folks who live here. I turned down very nice offers to work and live elsewhere.

The point of this essay is not to run down Carbon County. This community does not live in fear of monuments or monsters under the bed. The county does not benefit one whit by its commissioners traveling to Washington, offering inaccurate testimony about devastation in counties that are demonstrably better off.

Carbon County would be best served by elected leaders working to make the community more livable, the people healthier. If the people of Carbon County have a collective fault, it is clinging to a gambler's dream, hoping the next coal mine or gas play somehow assures prosperity.

Instead of waiting for its future to be decided in faraway corporate board rooms, Carbon County should be creating its own.

Dennis Willis, Price, retired after 35 years with the U.S. Forest Service and BLM. He is president of the River Management Society, a consultant on land-use planning and serves on the boards of the Nine Mile Canyon Coalition and the USU-Eastern Prehistoric Museum. Email: willis-works@emerytelcom.net