Bowknot Bend in Labyrinth Canyon on the Green River; credit: Doc Searls

On March 12, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act was signed into law by President Trump after receiving bipartisan support in both the House and Senate. The omnibus legislative package combined over 100 individual bills and includes a wide variety of provisions regarding public lands.

The Dingell Act designates over 600 miles of river and stream as wild, scenic, or recreational in the Wild & Scenic Rivers system. Additionally, about 1.3 million acres of wilderness were created, and about 700,000 acres were designated as national conservation or recreation areas. Other actions include a permanent re-authorization of the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund and the creation of five national monuments.

One major component of the act focused on Emery County, in eastern-central Utah. On the Green River, 63 miles were added to the Wild & Scenic Rivers system. Fourteen of those miles are located in Gray Canyon, which is downstream adjacent to Desolation Canyon and often referred to by the latter name. Of the mileage found in Gray Canyon, the 5.3 miles between Coal Creek and Nefertiti access were designated as wild. This short section of river is only accessible to boaters on a multi-day trip through Desolation Canyon.

Downstream from Nefertiti access, the eight miles known as Green River Daily (or occasionally Gray Canyon Daily) section was designated as recreational. Due to releases from Flaming Gorge Dam, about 250 miles upstream, the daily section runs year-round and is a popular Class II run for whitewater kayakers and a common summer trip for recreational floaters.

The longest section of newly designated Wild & Scenic river in Emery County is a 49-mile stretch through Labyrinth Canyon. Designated as scenic, this section begins at Bull Bottom, roughly four miles downstream from the Ruby Ranch access, and continues to the boundary of Canyonlands National Park. This section is a popular Class I multi-day paddling trip for canoeists, kayakers, and rafters. Labyrinth Canyon was named in 1869 by explorer John Wesley Powell and includes highlights such as Trin Alcove Bend and Bowknot Bend.

Gunison Butte in the Gray Canyon daily section of the Green River; credit: Mike Bezemek

Other actions in Emery County include the designation of 663,000 acres of newly protected wilderness, with two areas bordering the Green River. In northeastern Emery County, the Desolation Canyon Wilderness was created, which includes approximately 143,000 acres extending west from the river-right shore. The northern boundary of this new wilderness area is the county line, located roughly around Chandler Canyon. The southern boundary of the area extends southwestward from roughly Gunnison Butte.

In southern Emery County, the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness comprises approximately 54,600 acres extending westward from the river-left shore along the same 49-mile stretch designated by the bill as a national scenic river. Most of the remaining new wilderness acreage in Emery County is found in the San Rafael Swell, dispersed across more than 10 parcels. Meanwhile, much of the remaining land located around these new wildernesses has been included in the new San Rafael Swell Recreation Area. The bill indicates that these interconnected lands will continue to be managed by the BLM.

Located in the southeastern corner of Emery County, the new Muddy Creek Wilderness protects much of the stream channel and watershed of lower Muddy Creek, including the infrequently flowing but highly popular 17-mile paddling section called the Chute. A map created by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, which was involved in drafting the Emery County public lands bill, shows the boundaries of new wilderness areas. This map indicates that access roads have been categorized as conservation land, meaning shuttle-vehicle access should continue. Nearby, in the northern half of the Swell, parts of the San Rafael River, including the sections known as Little Grand Canyon and Black Boxes, were added to the new conservation area.

Paddlers explore the Chute on Muddy Creek; credit: Mike Bezemek

Elsewhere across the country, the Dingell Act included other additions to the national Wild & Scenic Rivers system. In Oregon, over 250 miles of new designations were made on mostly tributaries, plus a few main-stem sections, to several rivers already in the system, including the Rogue, Molalla, and Elk rivers. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, over 50 miles of the Nashua River were designated as scenic. In Connecticut, over 60 miles on the Farmington River and Salmon Brook were designated as recreational. In Rhode Island and Connecticut, over 100 miles of the Wood-Pawcatuck Rivers were added to the system, with various sections receiving one of the three categorizations.

Other provisions in the Dingell Act include the Wild & Scenic designation of ephemeral desert streams in southeastern California and many more acts around the country. More information, including the full text of the bill, can be found here.

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