Well, it finally happened. The Federal Bureau of Land Management, with the consent of Carbon County Commissioners and cooperation from the Bill Barrett Corporation, closed off tens of thousands of acres of public lands in Carbon County. The gates were locked yesterday.
So few of us had ever seen the place, it was like Glen Canyon back in the 1950s. People don't know yet what they lost. It was public land on the West Tavaputs Plateau that belonged to all of us. It has been open to anyone since the Utes were the only residents in the days before Columbus. Now it might as well be on the backside of the moon for most of us. Those young, hardy, environmentally friendly backpackers and a few privileged landowners will have the place all to themselves. Those of us too old, handicapped, or infirm to walk forty miles carrying a pack will be kept out.
I'm one of those people who knew the place, and I mourn. I worked for the Nutter Ranch as a kid and I think I saw most of it. My family hunted deer there for fifty years and we had some great adventures. My wife, sons and I have traveled the dirt roads to collect shed deer and elk horns and camp and picnic in the cedars. It was a great place for public recreation. Now it is gone.
Why is it gone? It was traded as a concession to the green people to keep them from suing to shut down drilling on the West Tavaputs - a sacrifice on the altar of eco-terrorism, if you ask me. By giving the wilderness lovers Cedar Ridge, Jack Canyon, Jack Ridge and Horse Bench, Bill Barrett gets to drill and Carbon County and the state of Utah get royalty money. The BLM gets the green people off their backs, for a time, and Hunt Oil, who now owns the Nutter Ranch, gets a private hunting preserve. They will have keys to the gates and access to the long-established county road network in the closed areas. They are building a big hunting lodge on private property behind the newly locked gates. I don't blame Hunt Oil for any of this, they just happen to hold private ground within the bounds of the newly created "roaded wilderness area" and we can't blame them for taking full advantage. The shame is on our government, at all levels, federal, state and local, for allowing this to happen.
The biggest outrage in all of this is that the areas closed to public access are not the areas being drilled. There is no oil and gas exploration even proposed for Horse Bench, Jack Canyon or Cedar Ridge. Access to our public lands is being closed to accommodate the wishes of an elitist few. We should be able to develop our commonly held natural resources on public lands without paying bribes to special interest groups.
Unfortunately, this is the way of the future. I'm sure we will see many more deals like this in the years to come. Utah senators Bob Bennett and Orrin Hatch set the precedent in 2009 with the signing of the Virgin River wilderness deal. In that arrangement, a 166-mile wilderness corridor was created in southern Utah. In exchange, the city of St. George got some BLM ground to develop into subdivisions, and Park City got a green buffer zone to help keep less desirable people from building houses in the area and dragging down real-estate values. Overall, the people of Utah were locked out of more than 250,000-acres of public land while a few folks with good connections prospered mightily. Orrin Hatch, Bob Bennett and Jim Matheson voted for the bill. They all said it was a good deal for Utah. What do you think?
I think they are re-creating the king's forest from the middle ages. Our public lands are becoming gated and restricted playgrounds for a politically favored minority. The rest of us are expected to stay home and be obedient little serfs.
We are losing our freedom, jobs, public lands and long-held American values and traditions at an alarming rate. Please get involved. Vote the bums out in the next election. We owe it to America.