With some of the world’s most spectacular landscapes, Utah is a haven for the seeker of peace and a respite from the industrialization of the modern world. But those lands have long been in the cross hairs of development’s long sight. With the possibility of an oil well beneath the Fisher Towers, a mine in Moab’s Goldbar Canyon or an off-road vehicle trail paralleling the Colorado River in Westwater Canyon, lovers of the land have fought for decades to preserve the solitude of the desert.
The story began long ago. Since achieving statehood in 1896, Utah has dealt with the issue of land ownership. The state has been divided up, creating a checkerboard pattern of state lands surrounded by federal lands. These inholdings are managed in order to maximize revenue generation and are periodically offered for sale to the highest bidder (i.e. oil and gas lease sales), posing the threat of development and exploitation even in areas the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) manages as wilderness.
“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” (Wilderness Act of 1964).
It is this definition – or lack thereof – that has prompted the Utah agency that manages these state lands, the Utah congressional delegation, and the Grand Canyon Trust to develop legislation that will swap the threatened inheld lands for federal lands already impacted by development. This exchange creates a win-win situation in which wild lands are protected and the state is able to develop appropriately in order to help fund schools.
But the bill isn’t just a good idea. Sponsor Jim Matheson (D-Utah) has led the charge in the Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act’s (H.R. 1275) unanimous passage through the House of Representatives on July 8. And it will await the vote of the Senate, which received and read the bill twice and referred it to the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources.
Photo Credit: tlindenbaum via flickr under Creative Commons License