Reps. Chaffetz and Bishop hold public meeting on pending public land use legislation
Rep. Jason Chaffetz and Rep. Rob Bishop visited Emery County for a meeting to discuss a possible land bill which may include Emery County.
The main idea to come from the meeting was there is no bill at this time. It is hoped a draft will be ready by fall.
Ed Geary, Emery County Public Lands Council chairman said the county has been working for more than 30 years on public lands issues and legislation which will solve and answer public lands issues within the county. The lands council has held an open process and come up with language they would like included in the public land use bill when it goes forward. Geary said, "We are proud of it (the language) It doesn't meet everyone's needs but we are especially proud of our process. We've tried to be as open as possible. There is a draft map on the website and in the county building. We invited stakeholders and interest groups out on the land in field trips. A few groups said they didn't want to be involved now, but would comment later.
"Looking back we've been trying to let the land speak for itself. One field trip we stood on the rim of Chimney canyon, we had been arguing about wilderness and what makes sense. We looked out over the rim and said ahh, that's what wilderness should look like.
"Where minerals are beneficial to the economy let that be land where those minerals can be developed. Available travel routes should stay open. Wilderness is not just for 30 year olds. It is for old people with bad knees. These routes have been here for a long time. There are historical uses and 150 years of heritage that go into the public lands of Emery County. The Swasey boys explored that desert. They took care of their animals and looked for minerals. The desert has been a place for family recreation as long as there's been people here. There are routes out there they followed in their old Model Ts. There are traditions like Easterin on the desert. We appreciate the support and the differences of opinion," said Geary.
Rep Chaffetz said he is new to representing Emery County and he likes the ground-up efforts of the county regarding public lands. He wants to represent Utah to Washington and not Washington views to Utah. He wants to take what Emery County has developed and sell it in Washington. "There's nothing worse than uncertainty," said Chaffetz. "We need to find the proper balance. Doing nothing creates a quagmire." Chaffetz said as long as the Antiquities Act is still a factor, there is always the chance the president could create a monument.
Rep. Bishop is the chairman of the natural resources committee which puts him in a good position to help.
Rep. Bishop said there are areas that need to be preserved, there are areas that need to be for recreational use, areas for economic development and areas for wilderness. He said the rules are always changing, and people need to be able to know what to plan for. "Not everyone will get everything," said Rep. Bishop.
State Senator David Hinkins said he is for multiple use which includes farming, mining and ranching.
Rep. Bishop said he wanted to hear from the citizens of Emery County.
One citizen wondered what Rep. Bishop's definition of wilderness was. He has a grazing allotment right where Geary mentioned that area looked like wilderness should look.
Geary said that area is within a Wilderness Study Area now and the grazing going on there is very beneficial to the area.
Rep. Chaffetz said if people are concerned about very specific areas to let them know.
Rep. Bishop said the definition applied most frequently to wilderness is no mechanized travel or equipment allowed.
It was pointed out there is a road at the bottom of Chimney canyon.
Ray Petersen, public lands director for Emery County said when Emery County Public Lands Council started the process for a public land use bill, they contacted all user groups. Protecting resource use is a top priority.
The question was asked how the Representatives propose to get the bill though a hostile Congress and executive branch.
Rep. Chaffetz said with the bottom up approach they will approach their colleagues and do it in such a way they will have confidence in the Utah delegation to do the right thing.
Rep. Bishop said there is a window of opportunity now with a new secretary of the interior who is willing to sit and work with them. She has a background in business which is helpful.
Rep. Bishop said if the proposal is good then he thinks acting now is a good time to push a land use bill through.
The question was asked that with a designation it will draw attention to the area and in other areas, cattle have been moved out of wilderness areas. How can we prevent that from happening here. Grazing language has been included in Emery County's land use proposal.
The bill which may include the southeastern counties has not been written. This fall a draft is hoped to be in place. Rep. Bishop said they will keep the state legislature involved as they move through the bill process. Now is the draft writing and comment phase of what to include in the bill. No county has to be involved that doesn't want to be.
Rep. Chaffetz said Emery County is farther along in the process than any of the other counties involved.
If other counties can't keep up they will be dropped along the way.
The question was asked of how this bill could benefit Emery County. Rep. Bishop said visitors could come here for outdoor recreation. As the state lands are traded out, the opportunity exists for economic development on the lands traded for even if these lands are in other counties. Emery County could see monies from development elsewhere. There could be all different kinds of economic development activity with a regional approach.
Rep. Bishop said with the creation of wilderness areas, he thinks we should get something useful and beneficial in return. "If it gets out of control, we'll shut it down," said Bishop.
Rep. Chaffetz said right now there is so much uncertainty that developers aren't willing to take risks when they may not be able to drill or develop. A bill which clearly states what's allowed in an area could lead to more economic development as well as mineral extraction.
Rep. Chaffetz said they will look at legitimate wilderness. But their goal is not to lock up more land. The Eastern states only have 1 percent of the public land.
The question was posed of why give up anything, why give any wilderness? Is it driven by fear that if we don't get a plan then they (government) will just do something to us? "I don't see how a bill will help. Why not just undo the Antiquities Act," stated the audience member.
Rep. Chaffetz said he would like to get rid of the Antiquities Act, "We don't view this as giving them wilderness. We want to be part of the solution.
"We need a cohesive plan. I don't feel this is driven by fear. What if the President wakes up one day and just does it?"
Rep. Chaffetz said all the problems won't be solved with just one bill. "If this was easy, it would have been done a long time ago. Doing nothing is the worst option," said Rep. Chaffetz.