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
    Colorado Plateau Natural & Human History Field Seminars. Lodge, river, hiking options. Small groups, guest experts.
  • NATURE EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Our mission is to inspire a life-long connection to nature and community through creative exploration of the outdoors. We are seeking an educational leader who...
  • DEVELOPMENT AND MARKETING DIRECTOR
    The Development and Marketing Director is a senior position responsible for the execution of all development and marketing strategies to raise funds and increase public...
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Coordinates all Wyoming Wildlife Federation philanthropic activities. Tasks include identification, recruitment, and retention of donors, organizing fundraising events, and assisting with grant writing.
  • REALTOR NEEDS A REMOTE ASSISTANT
    This is a business assistant position, The working hours are flexible and you can chose to work from anywhere of your choice, the pay is...
  • CORPORATE & GRANTS PARTNER MANAGER
    Forever Our Rivers Foundation Corporate Partnerships Manager February 2020 www.ForeverOurRivers.org Forever Our Rivers Foundation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, was formed in late 2016 with the mission...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Central Oregon LandWatch is seeking an Executive Director to advance our mission and oversee the development of the organization. Job Description: The Executive Director oversees...
  • WESTERN NATIVE SEED
    Specializing in native seeds and seed mixes for western states.
  • MEDIA DIRECTOR
    Love working with the media? Shine a spotlight on passionate, bold activists fighting for wild lands, endangered species, wild rivers and protecting the climate.
  • STAFF ATTORNEY - NEVADA
    The Center for Biological Diversity is seeking an attorney to expand our litigation portfolio in Nevada. Come join our hard-hitting team as we fight for...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation seeks an energetic leader to advance our mission, sustain our operations, and grow our grassroots power. For a full position description,...
  • HISTORIC COMMERCIAL OPPORTUNITY IN DOWNTOWN NOGALES
    Nogales. 3 active lower spaces and upper floor with lots of potential. 520-245-9000 [email protected]
  • CHUCK BURR'S CULTUREQUAKE.COM BLOG
    Change will happen when we see a new way of living. Thinking to save the world.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • DIRECTOR, TEXAS WATER PROGRAMS
    The National Wildlife Federation seeks a Director to lead our water-related policy and program work in Texas, with a primary focus on NWF's signature Texas...
  • SPLIT CREEK RANCH
    Spectacular country home on 48 acres with Wallowa River running through it! 541-398-1148 www.RubyPeakRealty.com
  • OJO CALIENTE COMMERCIAL VENTURE
    Outstanding location near the world famous Ojo Caliente Mineral Spring Resort. Classic adobe Mercantile complete w/living quarters, separate 6 unit B&B, metal building and spacious...
  • NEW MEXICO GILA NATIONAL FOREST HORSE RANCH
    43 acres in the Gila National Forest. Horse facility, custom home. Year-round outdoor living. REDUCED to $999,000, 575-536-3109.
  • EVERLAND MOUNTAIN RETREAT
    Everland Mountain Retreat includes 318 mountaintop acres with a 3,200 square foot lodge and two smaller homes. Endless vistas of the Appalachian mountains, open skies,...
  • COPPER CANYON MEXICO CAMPING & BACKPACKING
    Camping, hiking, backpacking, R2R2R, Tarahumara Easter, Mushroom Festival, www.coppercanyontrails.org.