Bennett initiated a process to develop a wilderness proposal for San Juan County, similar to the process that resulted in a Washington County Wilderness Bill in 2008. The Senator’s office called for input from whomever wanted to participate.
By all accounts, San Juan County government was a major voice at the table. The Wilderness Society was the main wilderness advocate to participate in developing the Washington County Bill.
While other major environmental organizations were mostly quiet in the Washington County process, they have been involved in the San Juan County process, including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Grand Canyon Trust, and the Sierra Club.
In addition, other organizations were involved, including the Nature Conservancy and federal agencies, including the National Park Service.
San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams warned that a designation is not imminent just because a group requested that a certain location be included. “Everyone had their chance to submit recommendations for the Bill,” said Adams. “I guess that if all the recommendations were accepted, you would need a permit to leave city limits.”
While the designation of wilderness on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) property is the focus of the proposed legislation, a full range of ideas were considered for the proposed bill; including expansion of National Park lands.
The Nature Conservancy, which owns the Dugout Ranch near Canyonlands National Park, was involved in discussions that revolved around expansion of Canyonlands National Park to include the Indian Creek area, where the Dugout is headquartered.
Expansion of Canyonlands boundaries is a goal of many conservation groups. The Nature Conservancy is reportedly against park expansion.
The August 14 issue of the Deseret News reported that Hovenweep National Monument could be expanded. The current monument, containing six prehistoric villages, stretches along 20 miles of canyons and covers 485 acres.
Monument superintendent Corky Hays said she is pleased with progress to date, and reports “I think everyone is realizing what great resources San Juan County has and they would like to see the area best managed for the county, the state and the country. To date, no one is screaming about the decision.”
Hovenweep was established as part of the national park system in l923. Hayes said, “It contains some of the most dense, if not the most dense, sites of ancestral ruins of this nature anywhere… density here is so great that you literally cannot toss a stone without hitting another site.”
“So far the initiative to expand the monument is not experiencing any protestors or disfavor,” said San Juan County Commissioner Lynn Stevens.
Enlarging the monument could be accomplished in several ways, including congressional legislation, a cooperative management agreement between the National Park Service and the BLM, and the trade out of land holdings by private landowners for other federal land in the county.
The proposal has caught the attention of Governor Gary Herbert’s Balanced Resources Council, where progress reports have been presented.
Hays concludes, “Everyone knows what an incredible place this area is and they deeply love it. Even though it looks relatively empty today, we know it is far different than when it was first formed in l923. The whole concept of this project is [to prepare] for the next 75 to 100 years so future generations will be able to come and experience something special.”