Commentary: Emery County land bill doesn’t go far enough to protect scenic wonder outside of shrunken Utah monuments

The deserts of southern Utah are a place for discovery, amazement and, most importantly, learning. That’s why the EnviroClub at the University of Utah spent our first weekend of summer vacation in Bears Ears National Monument. We went to learn about and serve the land, but we came back with so much more.

We also came back to the news that Rep. John Curtis and Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced the Emery County Public Lands Management Act, which does not do America’s public lands of the renowned Utah desert justice, as far as protection goes.

This bill is a step in the right direction, but it falls short. Emery County is one of the most accessible areas to us students. It is the place we go to re-energize for academic success and build relationships with each other. This bill would jeopardize that access by leaving sections of world-class scenery and recreation opportunities unprotected, and further threatening large sensitive areas with increased motorized routes.

During our trip to Bears Ears, EnviroClub got a small glimpse into the great potential of Utah redrock and wilderness-quality lands. As students we fully stand behind efforts to conserve these wild landscapes in perpetuity. It is truly a shame that Curtis’ bill leaves out major swaths of these lands of the San Rafael Swell, just like lands that aren’t being protected in Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. The most recent conservation attempt of Curtis and Hatch may have good intentions, but it needs to be exponentially better.

As a diverse group of students invested in environmental sustainability through multiple academic disciplines, it is clear to us that the areas this bill seeks to protect are based on arbitrary political boundaries and not on protecting lands and their ecosystems. This bill largely ignores perspectives like ours and students across Utah.

Many members of our club have been to the San Rafael Swell and have experienced its beauty first-hand, but others still have not had those opportunities. In our perspective it is of utmost importance to protect as much land as possible to allow for future enjoyment by all Americans.

As young students, we have a significant stake in the future of these lands. This bill can do what’s right by designating wilderness, protecting ecosystems and preserving land for us and future generations. This is the place we’ll continue to return to for regeneration though our academic experience; it is where we will take our children to.

For this bill to make a meaningful impact to our state, it would protect Muddy Creek, Labyrinth Canyon and the San Rafael Badlands and keep other sensitive areas free of motorized vehicle recreation. Without these changes, the Emery County Public Lands Management Act still has a ways to go to provide the protection that our stunning Utah redrock needs and deserves.

Logan Hastings is a junior at the University of Utah, studying geography and environmental studies. She is part of the leadership team of the EnviroClub, a student-led organization that helps other students get involved in environmental issues at the University of Utah and beyond.