SALT LAKE CITY — A public lands proposal set to be unveiled next month would promote Utah’s reputation as a mecca for dinosaur fossils by elevating Dinosaur National Monument to a national park and by creating a new “Jurassic National Monument” in central Utah.
The ambitious, sweeping plan that has been in the works for years would also add protections for nearly 4 million acres of land in eastern Utah in exchange for freeing up 365,000 acres land for oil and gas development in the same part of the state, Rep. Jason Chaffetz revealed Monday to editorial boards at The Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News.
A spokesman for Rep. Rob Bishop, who has spearheaded the work behind the proposal, said the information Chaffetz gave out is preliminary and could change. The Republican congressman still wants to get feedback on the proposal before introducing it in Congress sometime in September, Bishop’s spokesman, Lee Lonsberry, said in a statement.
Bishop and Chaffetz have spent the last three years talking to county officials, environmentalists, energy developers and others to develop a plan they say will balance mining and drilling, recreation, preservation and other uses of Utah’s lands.
The information disclosed by Chaffetz this week is the first look at details of the plan.
Among the highlights unveiled by Chaffetz:
— The creation of “Jurassic National Monument” at one of the largest collections of fossils from the Jurassic Period. The monument would be located at the Cleveland-Lloyd dinosaur fossil quarry in Emery County, about 150 miles southeast of Salt Lake City.
— Elevating Dinosaur National Monument, which straddles the Utah-Colorado border, into a national park.
— Extending Arches National Park near Moab by folding in 50,000 acres along its eastern flank.
— Adding protections for about 3.9 million acres in eastern Utah in exchange for opening up 365,000 acres in the same part of the state for oil and gas development, The Salt Lake Tribune reported (http://bit.ly/1LyplLq).
The proposal would also bar the president from using broad authority under the 1906 Antiquities Act to designate any national monuments down the road in the seven counties involved. Alaska and Wyoming have similar exemptions that require Congress to approve any new monument designations in those states.
The “Jurassic National Monument” would be contingent on the Emery County Commission voting in favor of the idea at an upcoming meeting in early September.
“It’s really an amazing part of history right down in Emery County. They’d like more dollars, more protection, more promotion (and to) bring in more scientists from around the world, which will help the local economy. It sounds like a win-win,” Chaffetz told the Deseret News (http://bit.ly/1WQBvmf).
Speaking generally the concept of the proposal, Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab, has criticized the idea of creating new wilderness designations. He said it creates problems for adjacent counties.
Environmentalists, meanwhile, are leery the plan will not include enough conservation and give county commissioners too much power.