Let Utah manage public lands the right way
Strict federal regulation of Utah’s public lands only makes matters worse.
Although native aspen forests are in decline throughout the western United States, you wouldn’t know if you visited Utah’s Monroe Mountain, south of Richfield.
Through the combination of prescribed fires, reseeding and mechanical removal of conifers, lush stands of aspen are returning across the landscape. These healthy young aspen forests provide ideal habitat for native wildlife, improve the water quality of local streams, and provide a great destination for camping, hunting, hiking, and other forms of recreation.
Monroe Mountain is just one example of sites across Utah where mechanical and practical improvements to the landscape are being used successfully to better conserve and protect our public lands. Whether it’s mechanized restoration of sage grouse critical habitat, thinning of dense coniferous forests to reduce the threat of bark beetle infestations, and firebreak construction To protect at-risk communities from catastrophic wildfires or the removal of invasive tamarisk trees on the banks of the Colorado River, Utah’s public lands benefit when land managers use practical methods to cope to growing ecological challenges.
As incongruous as it may sound, heavy mechanical equipment and access roads are often necessary tools to meet these challenges and ensure healthy and productive landscapes for future generations.
Unfortunately, the mechanical means of improving the landscape and the access roads they require are generally prohibited in national monuments, wilderness areas and other types of heavily regulated federal designations which in the name of ” protection ‘of Utah’s landscapes, often do more harm than good. .
These heavily regulated public lands are often the most prone to insect infestations, catastrophic forest fires, sagebrush decline, and other diseases affecting public lands in Utah precisely because federal designations prevent them. types of active landscape management that these lands require.
Even on Monroe Mountain, home to such a successful aspen regeneration project, work is proceeding more slowly and with more regulatory burdens on areas of the mountain designated as federal “road-free areas”.
As Utah continues to grapple with drought, climate change, and other issues, the disparity between healthy, well-managed public lands and “hands off” lands governed by strict federal regulations continues to grow. accentuate.
Overly heavy federal designations on public lands are also hampering Utah’s contributions to the global fight against climate change. Many public lands in Utah contain minerals essential for building batteries and electrifying American infrastructure. Many public lands in Utah are traditionally open for responsible and sustainable mining, but federal regulations on national monuments, wilderness areas, “areas of critical environmental concern” and other restricted lands prohibit the extraction of the materials needed to reduce humanity’s carbon footprint. .
National monuments, wilderness areas and other protected lands certainly have their place in the Utah landscape, as do the treasured national parks of Utah. There may be additional lands that justify such designations. But with the federal government already managing nearly 67% of Utah’s land, massive federal designations like the original Bears Ears National Monument (an astonishing 1,351,849 acres) just don’t make sense.
The ecological challenges facing Utah’s lands are too great, and a vast landscape the size of Bears Ears needs a wide range of practical management techniques to restore wildlife habitat, regenerate colonies. aspen, reduce the risk of forest fires and protect watersheds, as well as allow the extraction of critical minerals in some areas. Surely there are expanses in the original Bears Ears footprint that justify bans on landscape management and motorized vehicles, allowing nature to simply take its course. But such designations must be at the appropriate scale to avoid ecological decline at the landscape scale.
President Joe Biden’s stated goal is to “conserve” 30% of US lands and waters by 2030. Utah fully supports greater conservation of our lands – if conservation can be done the right way. This includes actively working to restore and protect landscapes using the full suite of tools available, even when short-term impacts are needed to create long-term ecological improvements.
We urge President Biden to avoid the authoritarian “fortress conservation” mentality displayed by Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama when creating Utah’s oversized national monuments.
Conservation is at the heart of Utah’s values, and the people of Utah will continue to work to improve our public lands when they have the tools and flexibility to do so.
Redge johnson is executive director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Public Lands Policy.