Fightin’ against the feds

  • Mike Noel on the range in Kane County, Utah.

    Mike Noel
 

Name: Mike Noel

Vocation: Utah state representative (R-Utah District 73)

Day Job: Executive director of the Kane County Water Conservancy District

Favorite Foods: “I actually got introduced to sushi with a buddy of mine up at the Legislature. I really like that. I kind of go with all the cooked stuff. I don’t like baby eels and all that garbage. I have had some pretty exotic stuff, too. But I like all kinds of food.”

Married to: Sherry, whom he met in high school

Offspring: Five children and 12 grandchildren

 

Mike Noel leans back and folds his hands behind his head, speaking easily. But his words are not so relaxed: “Once you decide to fight, you’re going to be in for the fight of your life. You got to have broad shoulders.”

Noel is referring to his head-butting with environmental groups such as the Grand Canyon Trust and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. But he could just as easily be talking about his decade-long battle with the Bureau of Land Management over the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

In 1996, Noel worked for the BLM doing environmental reviews. He had just finished an analysis giving the go-ahead to a proposed coal mine on southern Utah’s Kaiparowits Plateau. Later that year, President Clinton designated 1.9 million acres, including the plateau, as a national monument. Anger erupted in the local communities, which had long relied on mining and ranching; schoolchildren released black balloons, and residents of nearby Kanab wore black arm bands.

Monument designation also killed the coal mine and spurred tension between Noel and higher-ups. Eventually, he took an early retirement. “Essentially, it was a totally illegal action,” he says of the federal designation. “I had the audacity to stand up and say what the administration did was wrong. I had only five more years until retirement … but it worked out OK.” Noel emerged from the ordeal as a new leader; he is now serving his third term as a Utah state representative.

Today, Noel is wearing jeans, a blue button-up shirt and a black baseball cap emblazoned with the words “Cowboy Caucus” for the group of conservative rural Utah lawmakers he leads. When he shows this journalist around the office — Noel runs a water consulting company, his main client the Kane County Water Conservancy District — he tells his staff, “(This reporter) wants to know why the enviros don’t like me.” An employee answers: “It’s because Mike gets things done.”

Indeed he has, pushing legislation from the innocuous — a bill letting taxpayers donate money to fix pets — to the contentious, including one that bolsters counties’ fights to keep roads open across federal lands. His main issue: public lands. Noel has surged forward with legislation, litigation and funding to keep public lands open to ranchers, mining and off-road-vehicles. Much of his work revolves around — or against — the Grand Staircase. Noel has played a key role in funneling state funds to Kane and Garfield counties to pay for a lawsuit over road rights in the monument.

Noel’s 30-plus years as a Kane County resident color his beliefs. Here — in an area the size of Connecticut but with a population of just 6,200 — he has coached basketball and served as a bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A former Boy Scout troop leader, he says, “I like to camp with (Scouts) and hike with them. Well, if everything is wilderness, if everything is locked up, you can’t even hardly go down into a wilderness area with a Scout troop. You can only take like five kids down there now. It’s just the whole idea that you can’t even use the public lands. It goes back to my belief that you worship the Creator, not the creations.”

Noel, who was born in Ogden, Utah, grew up in the nomadic life of a military family, and then went on to study biology. But in 1975, he left a Ph.D. program at the University of Utah to open a restaurant in Kanab. Once tourist season ended, he took a job with the BLM.

Now, as a Utah representative, Noel is not afraid of conflict. “If you can’t take the heat,” he says, “get out of the game, get out of the kitchen.” And he believes in calling it how he sees it: “The strategy is to just keep standing for what we believe is right and if it’s a gray area try to seek reasonable compromises.”

Nonetheless, his anger over the Escalante has mellowed some over the years. “I don’t have as much animosity as I used to,” says Noel. “I don’t like it, probably never will. It’ll just eat you up if you keep worrying about it. I’d rather focus on my grandkids.”

The author just completed an HCN internship.

High Country News Classifieds
  • CANYONLANDS FIELD INSTITUTE
    Field Seminars for adults: cultural and natural history of the Colorado Plateau. With guest experts, local insights, small groups, and lodge or base camp formats....
  • PLANNED GIVING OFFICER
    National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), the nation's oldest and largest national parks nonprofit advocacy organization seeks a Planned Giving Officer. Do you find energy in...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR
    The Methow Valley Citizens Council has a distinguished history of advocating for progressive land use and environmental values in the Methow Valley and Okanogan County...
  • ACTING INDIGENOUS AFFAIRS DESK EDITOR
    High Country News is seeking an Acting Indigenous Affairs Editor to oversee the work of our award-winning Indigenous Affairs Desk while our editor is on...
  • GRANTS PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    The Cinnabar Foundation seeks an enthusiastic, team-oriented and knowledgeable Grants Program Director to work from their home in Montana. Established in 1983, the Cinnabar Foundation...
  • ARTEMIS PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Artemis Program Manager will work with National Wildlife Federation sporting and public lands staff to change this dynamic, continue to build upon our successful...
  • ALASKA SEA KAYAK BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Well-known and successful sea kayak, raft, hike, camp guiding & water taxi service. Sale includes everything needed to run the business, including office & gear...
  • MEMBERSHIP AND EVENTS PROGRAM COORDINATOR
    Great Old Broads for Wilderness seeks a detail-oriented and enthusiastic Membership and Events Coordinator to join our small, but mighty-fun team to oversee our membership...
  • PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT FACILITATOR
    ABOUT THE HIGH DESERT MUSEUM Since opening in 1982, HIGH DESERT MUSEUM has brought together wildlife, culture, art and natural resources to promote an understanding...
  • LAND STEWARD, ARAVAIPA
    Steward will live on-site in housing provided by TNC and maintains preserve areas frequented by the visiting public and performs land management activities. The Land...
  • DEVELOPMENT WRITER
    Who We Are: The Nature Conservancy's mission is to protect the lands and waters upon which all life depends. As a science-based organization, we create...
  • CONNECTIVITY SCIENCE COORDINATOR
    Position type: Full time, exempt Location: Bozeman preferred; remote negotiable Compensation: $48,000 - $52,000 Benefits: Major medical insurance, up to 5% match on a 401k,...
  • EXECUTIVE ASSISTANT
    ArenaLife is looking for an Executive Assistant who wants to work in a fast-paced, exciting, and growing organization. We are looking for someone to support...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Mountain Lion Foundation is seeking an Executive Director. Please see our website for further information - mountainlion.org/job-openings
  • DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR
    Driggs, ID based non-profit. Full time. Full job description available at tvtap.org. Submit cover letter and resume to [email protected]
  • ENVIRONMENTAL AND CONSTRUCTION GEOPHYSICS
    - We find groundwater, buried debris and assist with new construction projects for a fraction of drilling costs.
  • SPRING MOUNTAINS SOLAR OFF GRID MOUNTAIN HOME
    Located 50 miles northwest of Las Vegas, Nevada in the pine forest of Lee Canyon at 8000 feet elevation. One of a kind property surrounded...
  • MAJOR GIFTS MANAGER - MOUNTAIN WEST, THE CONSERVATION FUND
    Cultivate, solicit and steward a portfolio of 75-125 donors.
  • NATURE'S BEST IN ARAVAIPA CANYON
    10 acre private oasis in one of Arizona's beautiful canyons. Fully furnished, 2123 sq ft architectural custom-built contemporary home with spectacular views and many extras....
  • HEALTH FOOD STORE IN NW MONTANA
    Turn-key business includes 2500 sq ft commercial building in main business district of Libby, Montana. 406.293.6771 /or [email protected]