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
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a friendly, detail-oriented, and self-motivated Development Coordinator to provide administrative support to the Development department. This position will report to...
  • FIELD ORGANIZER, MONTANA
    Help Northern Plains Resource Council protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life. Work hard, meet good people, make the...
  • FOR SALE
    Successful llama trekking business with Yellowstone National Park concession for sale! A fun and enriching business opportunity of a lifetime! Call 406-580-5954
  • ALBUQUERQUE VACATION HOME
    Centrally located. One bed, one bath, lovely outdoor patio, well-stocked kitchen.
  • NEW AGRARIAN PROGRAM DIRECTOR
    Quivira (www.quiviracoaltion.org), a Santa Fe-based nonprofit that aims to shift current practices of agriculture and land stewardship to those that produce good food, support meaningful...
  • SPECTACULAR SCENIC MOUNTAIN VIEW HOME BUILDING SITE
    Located on top of Sugarloaf Mtn. 5 mi W of downtown Colorado Springs, CO. $80,000.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    opportunity in Eugene, Oregon! To learn more and to apply, visit our website at www.bufordpark.org.
  • FUNDRAISING & OUTREACH COORDINATOR
    Does the prospect of working to protect one of the Southwest's last remaining flowing rivers get you excited? Join the team at Friends of the...
  • DIGITAL ENGAGEMENT SPECIALIST
    Position Summary Western Resource Advocates (WRA) seeks a dynamic, organized, and creative Digital Engagement Specialist to be an essential part of our growing Communications Team....
  • NORTH IDAHO FIELD REPRESENTATIVE
    Founded by sportsmen and women 1936, the Idaho Wildlife Federation (IWF) is a statewide nonprofit dedicated to conserving and enhancing Idaho's natural resources, wildlife, habitat,...
  • SMALL HISTORICAL FARM FOR SALE - NEW MEXICO
    23-acres, adobe home, shop, barn, gardens, pasture, orchard. https://www.zillow.com/homes/222-Calle-Del-Norte,-Monticello,-Nm_rb/ or call 575-743-0135.
  • NEW MEXICO GILA NATIONAL FOREST HORSE RANCH
    43 acres in the Gila National Forest. Horse facility, custom home. Year round outdoor living. REDUCED to: $1.17 MM 575-536-3109
  • GRANTS MANAGER AND EDITOR
    Are you a strong communicator who excels at building relationships, writing winning grant proposals, and staying organized? You sound like a good fit for our...
  • REPORTER
    The Wallowa County Chieftain, has an opening for a reporter. Experience with and understanding of editorial photography also required. Journalism degree or equivalent, an understanding...
  • 2017 JOHN DEERE LAWN MOWER Z930R
    15 hours on it, 3 years warranty, 22,5 HP, $1600 Sale price. Contact: [email protected]
  • OWN YOUR OWN CANYON - 1400 SF STRAW-BALE ECO-HOME ON 80 ACRES - 3 HOURS FROM L.A.
    1400 sf of habitable space in a custom-designed eco-home created and completed by a published L.A. architect in 1997-99. Nestled within its own 80-acre mountain...
  • HEAD BREAD/PASTRY BAKER AND ASSISTANT POSITIONS
    Hiring Part/Full time for Summer Season - entry level & experienced positions. Year round employment for optimal candidates. Pay DOE.
  • 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,...
  • COUNTRY ESTATE NEAR KINGS CANYON AND SEQUOIA PARKS
    Spectacular views of snowcapped Sierras. 15 miles from Kings Canyon/Sequoia Parks. 47 acres with 2 homes/75' pool/gym/patios/gardens. 1670 sq.ft. main home has 3 bdrm/1 bath....
  • GILA NATIONAL FOREST NEW MEXICO
    Beautiful off-the-grid passive solar near the CDT. 9.4 acres, north of Silver City. Sam, 575.388.1921