A Great Salt Lake National Park? It’s unlikely, but don’t despair.

The idea of ​​a Great Salt Lake National Park has been generating buzz in recent weeks, but the likelihood of that happening is slim.

National parks are created by an act of Congress using land already owned by the federal government, typically managed by the US Bureau of Land Management or the US Forest Service. The state of Utah essentially owns most of the Great Salt Lake, including Antelope Island, Fremont Island, Gunnison Island, the Ogden and Farmington Bay wetlands, and the entire lake bed. In theory, the state could sell or donate these lands to the government, but as the ongoing conflicts at Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase Escalante show, Utah officials are reluctant to give way to greater federal oversight.

“That would be somewhat unprecedented,” said Ben Stireman, sovereign land program manager at the Utah Division of Forestry, Fire and State Lands, the state agency that manages the lake bed. “There is almost no desire to trade or sell the Great Salt Lake.”

This year, a group of students from Brigham Young University seriously launched the idea of ​​a national park. Last month, they even traveled to Washington, DC to meet with the Utah congressional delegation.

(The offices of Sen. Mitt Romney and Rep. Blake Moore, who were behind recent federal legislation in favor of the Great Salt Lake, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

“Everyone was very kind to have us in,” said Addison Graham, an American Studies student starting his senior year in the fall. “The last thing they want to do is tell a group of BYU students to get lost.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Advocates see federal government as the best way to preserve the lake, which is just beginning to recover after a successful year of snowfall.

But the students quickly got the impression that the Congressmen from Utah were not on board.

“We heard, ‘It’s a state matter, Governor. [Spencer] “Cox is doing a great job,” Graham said. “What we didn’t hear were many viable solutions.”

The Great Salt Lake has hit record lows for two straight years. Its ecosystem, home to millions of migratory birds, has been nearly wiped out. Its parched lake bed has dried up into a toxic dust that endangers the health of millions of residents on the Wasatch Front. Although record-breaking snowpack raised the lake an astounding 5.5 feet this spring, it still needs about five feet more to reach safe and sustainable levels.

And there’s no guarantee Utah will ever experience a winter like this again.

The students’ proposal is more realistic than making the entire Great Salt Lake a federally managed resource. Instead, they propose smaller national park units around the lake, including wetlands, part of the Promontory Point Peninsula, and the Bonneville Salt Flats. They anticipate that a national park, along with its unique wildlife, indigenous history and dwindling water supply, will draw global attention to the lake. They urged lawmakers to at least consider a feasibility study.

“We want to show people that it has the potential of a national park. It’s a treasure,” said Valeria Prieto, an environmental sciences student who is researching the lake’s importance to Native American communities. “It deserves more admiration. Hopefully this would help with all of the conservation efforts that are currently underway.”

They even conducted a poll that found that 67% of Utah residents support the creation of a Great Salt Lake National Park.

A historical perspective

Sara Dant, a history professor at Weber State University and author of “Losing Eden: An Environmental History of the American West,” said it made sense that a potential Great Salt Lake National Park would attract public interest.

“The Great Salt Lake is an exceptional, unique resource and visual spectacle,” said Dant. “And what do we do with extraordinary, unique visual spectacles? We turn them into national parks.”

But, she said, it could be divisive and reignite conservative, anti-government and anti-environmental sentiments from the Sagebrush Rebellion era.

“Right now, the lake and its crisis is creating a consensus,” Dant said. “No matter where you are on the political spectrum, you can see value in the lake and you don’t want it to go away. But if you start talking about getting the federal government involved, that’s going to cause everyone to scurry into their political corners so quickly.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) In April, an American Avocet begins to fly at the lake. The lake is an important habitat for migratory birds.

Part of Dant’s book debunks a belief underlying the Sagebrush Rebellion movement of the 1980s – that the vast tracts of federally administered lands in the West were unfairly seized from the states, who should own and use those lands as they pleased .

“This is a misunderstanding of the relationship between the states and the federal government,” Dant said. “The federal government acquired the lands of the West, then formed the states, and the states were formed with all these states.”

However, bodies of water such as the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake were treated differently because by the time Utah became a state they were navigable and used by residents for trade. Therefore, the federal government turned over the lakefronts to the state on the understanding that they would be publicly managed for the benefit of all Utah residents, rather than being monopolized by one industry or one owner.

The water that fills the lakes is also owned by the people of Utah and managed by the state under our complex water rights system for the benefit of the public.

For many Utah residents, however, an uneasy tension between state and federal land control persists today. Lawmakers provided millions for a lawsuit in 2016 claiming control of BLM and Forest Service areas. This year, some lawmakers insinuated that federal government forest management was to blame for the Great Salt Lake’s plight. And the state remains locked in a legal battle with President Joe Biden’s administration over Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments.

Monuments differ from national parks in that they are established by Presidents under the Antiquities Act, but they are protected in the same way. Many national monuments were later designated parks by Congress, including Arches National Park and Bryce Canyon National Park.

Dant said part of the public perception fueling conflict between state and government stems, at least in part, from a misunderstanding of what public land is and which agencies administer it.

“A lot of people don’t realize that the president doesn’t create a new state when he honors a monument,” Dant said. “So there was a huge outcry when [former President Barak] Obama referred to Bears Ears as “Oh my god, here it is.” [1.3] The President just confiscated millions of hectares.”

The areas declared and protected as monuments were existing BLM or forest management property. They’ve just been recharacterized for a new purpose, Dant explained.

That means Biden can’t unilaterally construct a national monument on the Great Salt Flats unless it’s on existing state land like the Bonneville Salt Flats.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Bonneville Salt Flats are covered by water in January.

However, Utah has previously surrendered areas under its control to help create a national park entity. In 1998, lawmakers agreed to exchange 400,000 acres of state-owned land within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument for 145,000 acres of federal land and $50 million in federal money. They thought about doing the same for Bears Ears.

But Dant doubts the state would agree to a sale or swap of land he manages on Utah’s famous inland sea.

“The state will not give up the valuable resource of the Great Salt Lake,” Dant said. “It just isn’t.”

For their part, the BYU students who support a national park said they are familiar with the many interests that own, manage and operate land in and around the lake.

“It’s not easy to solve,” Prieto said. “It would take a long time to find solutions and figure out what’s best for everyone involved.”

Regarding the division of state land, Stireman said he didn’t want those who dream of a national park to be disappointed by the slim chance it ever becomes a reality.

“I never want to discourage attention for the Great Salt Lake,” Stireman said. “We need people who understand its importance and why we want to work so hard to protect the lake.”

This article is published by The Great Salt Lake Collaborative: A Solutions Journalism Initiative, a partnership of news, education and media organizations dedicated to educating readers about the Great Salt Lake.

Justin Scaccy

InternetCloning is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – admin@internetcloning.com. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Related Articles

Back to top button