Public Lands Discuss BLM Travel Plan
The Emery County Public Lands Council met in their regularly scheduled meeting on Feb. 11 at 10 a.m. Those present were Chairman Dennis Worwood, Craig Johansen, Kirk Johansen, Vernell Rowley, Dickson Huntington, Ray Petersen and Commissioners Drew Sitterud and Gary Kofford.
The first item on the agenda was the approval of the previous meeting's minutes. The next item was the subcommittee reports. Craig Johansen reported first on water. Commissioner Sitterud and Johansen met with the department heads of the natural resouces department and made suggestions to them regarding a memorandum of understanding on the wild and scenic rivers. The MOU is not completed yet and they don't know at the present time if their input will have any bearing.
The staff of the natural resources department is putting together maps which show water diversions and reservoir sites which will be helpful to the counties.
Petersen explained a bill that Representative Brad Johnson was introducing which would require legislature to signoff on any wild and scenic designation. This will give the legislature some involvement in the wild and scenic process.
Commissioner Sitterud explained they had asked Representative Johnson to do this because the state is over water rights and not the federal government. He mentioned that the bill wouldn't have any teeth and the feds might just ignore it, but it was worth a try.
Craig Johansen explained that in regards to the drought, Utah Power had come to the irrigation companies in December and January meetings to request 3,000-5,000 acre feet of water from each river. He received a phone call on Friday that said the request is now being limited to Ferron or Cottonwood. They have pulled back a little. Snotel is below 70 percent. "We are close to where we were last year but with a lot less water in the reservoirs," said Johansen.
The coal bed methane subcommittee report was next with Commissioner Sitterud reporting that they had met with the state lands about production reporting. A paper trail has been established and the county is being paid the proper amount of mineral lease money on the wells on state lands. They were shown how the wells are read at the well head. Reports are available for the commission on a monthly basis. They also learned how the money is broken down and several agencies get a part of this lease money. They mentioned how a cut off the top goes to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument.
Commissioner Kofford also explained that the county GIS department is pulling down well locations lease by lease to tie in with the DOGM report.
The next item was a report from the heritage subcommittee. Commissioner Sitterud said the county is looking at the heritage bill. "In the past the bill didn't go very far. We need to look and see if we are still interested in promoting a heritage area. It is not a land mangement bill, but a bill to promote preservation, restoration and economic development. The bill was introduced last year, but was beat out. We have had Larry Young from SUWA look at the bill and they said they would not stop it. Also we've given it to Paul Conover for comment and input. There are copies of the bill available and we'd like input. If it is viable to send back through then we'd like to do that," said Commissioner Sitterud.
Petersen said they are sending out a letter soliciting input from all interested parties with a deadline for a response back. The letter will go to cities and to those who have shown an interest in the lands council in the past.
Craig Johansen said it was a excellent idea and made a motion to proceed. Worwood suggested the deadline be before the next meeting so they could decide whether or not to proceed at that time. The legislation would need to be introduced soon so it can move through the system this year.
Worwood said the purpose of a heritage area is to highlight a certain area. He said the county master plan does not deal with tourism. The focus of a heritage area gives a value added experience to tourism. Because of the county's proximity to the Wasatch Front we are not well positioned to go with typical windshield tourism. We need to develop tourism where they come and interact with the locals and receive something in return.
With Moab and Park City tourism then the existing culture packs up and leaves and a different population develops the tourism. Here, telling the story of our heritage is something we know how to do, explained Worwood.
Craig Johansen requested that some of that description be included in the letter for input. Commissioner Sitterud said that new requirements for heritage areas include a feasibility study. He said they could prepare an application to the CIB for funding of a feasibility study.
Paula Wellnitz mentioned eco and environmental tourism where people come to see beauties in their natural form and locals tell the story of the area.
Worwood said that it is tough to develop that kind of tourism. He said when our bill was introduced in 1998 it was attached to the conservation area; a lot of people looked at us funny because we weren't a Civil War battlefield; since we did it, Sanpete and Millard counties introduced a heritage bill that went through. It was contagious and there are a lot of people interested in heritage areas.
The next item on the agenda was the report from the access subcommittee. Petersen reported that the travel plan is out and then requested lists of concerns from citizens on the road closures. "If you have some concerns then make them known to us. List the comment, name of the road, location, township and range if you know it. State if you think it was misdesignated and what you think it should be. Get it in. You can also call or email comments.
Patrick Gubbins from the BLM said they are in the 30 day appeal process on the route designation plan and that the proper way to go about that is listed on the back of the decision record. This appeal process deadline is March 5. Petersen informed council members if they would like to discuss roads and closures to get with him and they would go over the maps and prepare their comments.
Petersen said the travel plan would be incorporated into the resource management plan as part of the BLM process. He said the county has cooperating agency status and is part of the planning team.
He reported on the ongoing RS-2477 issue which allows continued use of highways constructed before 1976 which allows public access across federal property. He stressed that this effort is ongoing and will rectify access. He stressed that this process is separate from the BLM travel plan and that it is hoped something will be finalized on RS-2477 this summer. Efforts are continuing in collecting GIS data, construction data and historical data on all RS-2477 roads within the county. "Hopefully when that comes out it will take care of concerns about access and getting where we need to go on the desert," said Petersen.
Petersen also stressed that the information being gathered is not available to the public because it will all be used in court as evidence in the litigation process. The RS-2477 roads issue will ultimately be decided in the court room.
Roads on the forest service were also discussed with questions being raised about roads being changed into trails. Bonnie Keele pointed out that the status of roads has been in effect from the 80s but it has not been enforced. The forest service is currently working to enforce what is already on their forest service travel map.
The grazing subcommittee report was next with Huntington saying that they have big concerns about the drought because the grazing is so closely tied to water. The Farm Bureau is sponsoring grazing workshops in developing drought strategies and working with the agencies. The BLM permittees have all received a letter from Patrick Gubbins of the BLM where he discussed the drought and the soil moisture. It looks like all cattle will need to be removed by April 1. Allotments will be looked at individually and maybe some will come off in March. Permittees on forest allotments have also received a letter from forest supervisor, Elaine Zieroth which was along the same lines. She stated that no decisions have been made yet but each allotment would be assessed and looked at while assessing needs for recovery. They will look at stocking strategies, plant health, plant dryness and other factors. Zieroth stated that they are committed to working with the BLM, the counties, and the permittees in the coming grazing season.
"We know we'll take cuts in the coming season, we hope they are not too drastic. I know they are only trying to protect the resource. Last year we took a 60 percent cut in time and numbers. The cattle were off last August when we took a field trip with the DWR, game biologists, range specialists and others. They said there was plenty of feed for the elk. I am not open to drastic cuts on cattle when the elk are expanding in numbers. That is a point of contention. plan will be rolled into the RMP and any RS-2477 adjustments will be made accordingly.
Craig Johansen stated that as he looked at the plan he noticed a lot of access close to SR-10 and the communities was being closed. He felt like the more access the people had close to the communities would relieve pressure on the more sensitive areas farther out in the Swell. He mentioned the Short Canyon area where only a small section had been left open....he felt this would cause greater use of these roads and therefore create more damage which was the problem the BLM hoped to elieviate with the closing of roads in the first place. Johansen also mentioned stock watering ponds that now have no access.
Gubbins answered that there will be special access permits available for those stockmen to enable them to use their ponds and maintain them as needed. He also mentioned agricultural uses, administrative uses, mining and rescue which might need special access. He said the BLM will work with people and they will still have access in these cases.
Commissioner Kofford also mentioned what he felt was a problem with closures by the ledges at Swasey's Cabin. He stated that if people are unable to get to traditional camping places that they will just start new ones.
Gubbins stated that he knows there are some mistakes, but this is their best shot. They took 5,000 comments and considered each of them. "I feel it is responsible and sensible. Is it perfect? Will it please everyone? No....it won't. We will address camping in the RMP. Maybe there are some sites that do need a rest," said Gubbins.
Commissioner Kofford remarked that people don't like to see their traditional spots changed and he sees a fight with tickets and contention brewing.
Gubbins said the travel plan is a result of 11 years of work. He said that 99 percent of the people are law abiding and will do the right thing. It will be an understanding and an educational process for the people to know why we've done some of the things we have. We will not just go out and be heavy handed.
Commissioner Kofford said that in Goblin Valley there are only 30 campsites and that many people look for a spot to pull off the road in motorhomes and trailers and have no choice but to hit BLM ground. They need somewhere to pull off the road.
Gubbins said they are working with the OHV community to install restrooms in the Temple Mountain area and have a grant to help with that. He recognized the needs of that area.
Keele stated her belief that the travel map which depicts an ATV on the front cover has created a misconception that this plan is only for ATV users. She pointed out that this is for all motorized recreation which includes jeeps, ATVs, pickups or your cadillac if you choose to take it out there. She stated that trails 52 inches or less were few outside of areas which are motorcycle only. She stated that the rest of the map effects everyone.
Gubbins stated that their goal was to designate motorized routes and he hopes people operate whatever vehicle they are using in a safe fashion.
Keele stated that when poeple look at the plan the implication is that it controls 4-wheelers...52 inches and below and that's not right.
Gubbins stated that they want to ensure that those routes 52 inches and below do not turn into roads. He also pointed out that the map showed a continuation of a route across state lands and did not show it as a dead end.
Gubbins said they will change the pictures on the front of the map to show a wider variety of vehicles. In other BLM business he said that UDOT has funding for fencing along highway north of Hanksville within Emery County and wondered about the availability of volunteer labor to help install this fencing with all the materials being provided. He also said the BLM has been in discussion with Texaco to start NEPA for the three wells in Huntington Canyon. He said in the timeline for the RMP that they hope to have alternatives developed by July with a target date of fall of 2004 for completion. "It is a big endeavor," said Gubbins.
Zieroth was next with a forest service update. She said the forest service is 100 years old this year. She said they are currently working on the revision of the forest service plan which has been in place since 1987. She said they will look at what's changed since that time on the forest. They have divided the forest into 11 smaller areas so the needs of each area can be assessed individually. The meetings to solicit public input and comment will begin in Emery County. She stated that the county was better organized on public lands issues. They will take comments on any areas of the forest and on any part of the forest.
John Healy from the forest service was next with an update. He stated that he is on a special task force where they go out and manage incidents of the new castle disease which effects birds. Concern is that if it reaches Sanpete County it could wipe out the turkey population. Cases have been found in California and Las Vegas as well as western Arizona. The disease displaces people and employees and the people may carry the disease with them. The bird's eyes swell up and the disease can't be innoculated against and the bird will die within 14 days. A group of veterinarians have been killing all birds within a kilometer circle and cleaning up yards and disinfecting. The disease has a 90 percent mortality rate. It can effect geese, ducks any kind of bird. One form of transporting the disease is believed to be among the cock fighters. They have met with cooperation but in some cases people were trying to move birds out to avoid them being put to death.
Craig Johansen asked Healy to respond to the elk. Healy stated that the browse in all of the winter ranges was showing signs of recovery and was growing out. He said he felt deer and elk numbers were down and they feel good about winter range and it is hard to push for elk reductions. The middle elevations have been more heavily impacted by the drought. The elk are spread out over a bigger area because of the mild winter and impacts are less. I have a hard time supporting elk reduction stated Healy.
Huntington said that a drought was not a good time to expand the elk herds. The question was raised as to why the cow hunts weren't held as they were in past years. The answer was the cow population was where they wanted it so the Horn/Trail mountain cow hunts weren't held.
Johansen stated the cows were cut 60 percent and the elk are still growing.
The DWR update was next on the agenda by Kip Draper from the division.. He mentioned that the Castle Valley Elk Ranch had been inspected by the department of agriculture and after a final inspection they will be putting elk in down there.
The elk on the Manti are being managed at 12,000 animals and he stated that they didn't want any more than that and are currently close to that number.
Gary Cornell from the forestry and fire gave an update. He said the first sale of timber under the new county ordinance is taking place near Electric Lake. He said they are concerned about the drought as they gear up for the fire season. He pointed out it was a fairly active fire season last year and they spent a lot of money on it. With the continuing drought it might make last year seem like a piece of cake. The legislature is currently addressing legislation not to suppress some wildland fires to hold costs down.
Jan Parmenter from the Moab SITLA office reported that they have land available for auction some of which is around the Castle Dale area. He said the auctions take place in May and about a month prior land descriptions will be on their website and also an ad will be placed in the local paper describing this property available for purchase.
Donna Sackett from Senator Bob Bennett's office stated that in the omnibus bill there is $3 billion earmarked for drought relief. They are also in the appropriations process in Congress.
The next item discussed was the filling of the three seats on the public lands council currently held by Dennis Worwood, Dickson Huntington and Wes Curtis. Petersen proposed the idea of a selection committee being formed to aid in the selection process of new members. This committee could perform interviews with applicants on a more casual basis. They would then forward names to the main body of the council.
Craig Johansen stated that he felt the full council should have participation in the selection process.
Commissioner Kofford stated that as they look at new members they should look at recreationalists and sportsmen and break up the council a little bit to include these interests or possibly increase the number of people who sit on the board.
Commissioner Hatch said they could expand the board to meet the needs of the council. They could look at increasing the board.
Worwood said they are looking at two separate issues and they need to act on filling the vacancies within the current bylaws which provide for an eight member council with the three commissioners. It was determined that the council would discuss the applicants for the vacancies in executive session.
The next public lands meeting will be held on March 11 at 10 a.m.