Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, presented his first piece of legislation Thursday, a resolution calling for protection of the Greater Canyonlands area of southern Utah. His bill was supported by impassioned words from Utah author and conservationist Terry Tempest Williams and others, but the words that likely held the resolution from passing out of committee were “protect” and “undeveloped.”
In November 2012, the leaders of the outdooor recreation industry gathered to request that President Barack Obama use executive power to designate 1.4 million acres of Utah’s Greater Canyonlands area as a national monument. Dabakis pitched his resolution to the Senate Natural Resources, Agriculture and Environment Committee, however, as a means of getting the Legislature to address Congress and the White House about opening a dialogue on protecting the area but doing it in a way responsive to Utah communities.
Dabakis also urged the committee to recognize the value of the area as something that could link past and future generations together through the shared experience of the natural beauty of the area. “It provides the backdrop for our state and country, and our world, really, to have those generational experiences,” Dabakis said. “We share those beautiful vistas.”
Author and conservationist Terry Tempest Williams added her voice to the presentation and asked the committee to also consider future generations.
“The Greater Canyonlands is our bedrock, a geologic truth we all share,” Williams said. “The eyes of the future are looking back at us, praying we may see beyond our own time.”
Multiple members of the audience spoke in favor of the proposal, as well, including archaeologist Kevin Jones, who pointed out irreplaceable treasures in the area, like Barrier Canyon rock art, which, he told the committee, predated the birth of Christ. But ultimately, while the committee agreed the Legislature should send a message to D.C. about a Utah solution for protecting the Canyonlands, committee members worried about the wording of Dabakis’ resolution.
Some were concerned it might invite more federal designations.
“I sincerely want to protect the sanctity and beauty of those lands,” said Sen. Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City. “I just prefer to use a different mechanism than federal control.”
Sen. Peter Knudson, R-Brigham City, also questioned if Dabakis’ idea of protection would allow access only to those “in prime physical condition.”
“Or is there latitude in your vision for this to access this land with motorized vehicles?” Knudson asked. The committee couldn’t get over their doubts about the resolution’s vague language regarding “protection” and keeping areas “undeveloped,” but did commend Dabakis for the resolution’s seeking of local public input and seeking to open channels with D.C. To that end, the committee voted to hold the resolution and study it in the Interim session. Dabakis was the only dissenting vote.