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It’s National Public Lands Day! Let’s Talk About Climate Change

Did you know that public lands play a critical role in shaping the future of climate change?

In Utah, 45 million tons of fossil fuels are extracted each year from federal public lands, the equivalent emissions of 9.7 passenger cars driven for one year. These extraction practices, designed to help fuel our energy grids, creates a positive feedback loop. The University of Calgary explains, “Similar to how keeping money in a savings account earns interest and compounds to earn more money, positive climate feedback increases some initial change in the climate.”

But what are public lands?

These are areas of land and water that are today collectively owned by U.S. citizens and managed by government agencies. These lands can consist of national parks, monuments, forests, wild and scenic rivers, Bureau of Land Management lands, wilderness and wilderness study areas, watersheds, and municipal lands, to name a few. Each agency oversees how these lands are managed to balance the multitude of uses these areas have- from recreational activities like hiking, kayaking, or rock climbing, to energy development, logging, and mining.

These large patches of continuous wild lands are also important for maintaining habitats for wildlife, allowing for safe migration due to climate change, and they can function as carbon sinks! Trees and plants suck CO2, a major contributor to climate change, from the air during photosynthesis. As they grow, they can absorb great volumes in their leaves, trunks, and roots. The older and bigger they get, the more carbon they store!

While we might not think of Utah as being a dense forest, the forests we do have play pivotal roles, just as much as the desert in helping support ecosystems and wildlife. The Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, contains over a net acreage of 2,169,596 acres of forested land, imagine all the CO2 this massive forest in our backyard is absorbing!

Salt Lake City’s Local Public Lands

SLC Parks & Public Lands

Salt Lake City has its own Public Lands Department that works to provide accessible, healthy, and beautiful wild spaces for us to enjoy without having to stray too far from home. Currently, this hardworking team is developing a new master planReimagine Nature SLC. If you’d like to get involved in this process, you can email

Our Public Lands Department is also one of the city departments that accepts volunteers! Sign up for their newsletter to get the latest updates on volunteer opportunities.

SLC Public Utilities

Since 1876, the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities (SLCDPU) has diligently protected and managed our precious water resources to provide residents with high-quality, safe drinking water. Watershed areas safeguarded by Salt Lake City and our partners provide nearly 60 percent of the drinking water used by the following communities:

  • Salt Lake City
  • Cottonwood Heights
  • Holladay
  • Millcreek
  • Sandy City (from Little Cottonwood)
  • Salt Lake County (unincorporated areas)

Protecting our watershed means that the Public Utilities Department helps guide the management of a portion of the Central Wasatch Mountains (190 square miles of watershed) and is a key player in protecting our local public lands. Since 1989 the City has purchased approximately 31,528 acres of watershed to protect the water quality and affordability for residents. Public Utilities was tasked with watershed management through the creation of ordinances directed by two Federal Acts of Congress.

To keep our water pure, Salt Lake City’s Public Utilities Department plays a prominent role in managing activities that could affect the water quality in our canyons (such as restricting dogs and implementing rules on certain types of canyon development that could affect the watershed).

For over 100 years, Salt Lake City has helped protect the Wasatch, seeking federal protections in 1904 and turning the land encompassing Big and Little Cottonwood Canyon, Parley’s Canyon, and City Creek Canyon into the Salt Lake Forest Reserve, distinct but still part of the larger National Forest. Check out this story map from the Department for more detailed information on our watershed!

This year, the Salt Lake City Public Utilities Department is updating its Watershed Management Plan, so stay tuned for ways to get involved and share your feedback!

Public Lands and Renewable Energy

The Salt Lake City Sustainability Department has been working to create and implement the Community Renewable Energy program (have you heard of it?) since 2019. That year, Utah State House Bill 411 passed. Also known as the Utah Community Renewable Energy Act, it created a pathway for interested communities served by Rocky Mountain Power to collaborate on creating a first-of-its kind renewable electricity program.

The goal is to develop enough renewable energy resources in Utah to match the electricity use of our entire community in a year. Salt Lake City, along with 17 other local governments, are working together to achieve our “net-100% clean electricity” goals by 2030 and are making exciting progress.  These communities account for about 25 percent of Rocky Mountain power’s electricity sales in the state.

This program is an important way that local governments can spur and support clean energy development on public and other lands.

We love our public lands for all they do for us, so this National Public Lands Day, let’s give back to them- even if it’s just picking up a little trash on your walk through a local park, or finding ways to enjoy our amazing Wasatch Mountains watershed!

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