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Front Page » September 7, 2004 » Opinion » Proposed Amendments to the County General Plan
Published 4,548 days ago

Proposed Amendments to the County General Plan

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To be discussed in a public hearing on Sept. 7 at 5 p.m. at the commission meeting.

Continued from Aug. 31



It is the policy of Emery County to preserve the heritage of its people, protect public lands and resources and the rights of the populace therein, to expand, diversify and develop its local economy, and to maintain and protect the rural lifestyle so prized by Emery County people. The management of public lands has extensive effects upon the lives and well-being of Emery County's residents, and as past multiple-use management has been changed by greater emphasis on environmental and wilderness issues, it has become vital that Emery County assert the interests of it and its people in the planning and decision-making processes associated with these lands. The continued prudent use, protection and availability of public land and its accompanying resources are vital to the stability and growth of Emery County and its economy.

It is Emery County's policy to actively participate with federal and state land management agencies, and with other counties and regional agencies in the planning, development and establishment of resource management decisions and plans that will allow managers and planners to effectively fulfill their responsibilities to manage the County's natural resources in accordance with legal requirements that they recognize and address local needs and objectives, as stated in this General Plan. The County, through its planning authorities and its Public Lands Council is engaged in on-going planning, and expects its plans which affect public lands to be included in public land planning and management processes. Emery County residents have established rights on federal lands and Emery County proposes to protect and assert those rights. These efforts are further described in Public Lands Council section of this plan.

In furtherance of this policy the County has created the office of Public Lands Administrator and the Public Lands Council and as an advisory body to the County Commission and County-wide Planning Commission and as a forum where various agencies, interested groups and individuals can exchange views and address current issues dealing with public lands within Emery County and the region.

Tourism and Recreation:

Emery County recognizes the many forms of recreation as valid whether they involve mechanical conveyances or not, or are motorized or not so long as these activities are engaged in with due respect to the rights of others and the maintenance of the landscape and scenic values of the area. Emery County favors planning and regulations which accommodate a wide variety of recreation both on and off public lands.

RS-2477 Rights-of-Way:

The county has made great efforts over the past several years to identify and establish the routes of existing roads belonging to the county's Class B and D road system, as well as older roads, trails, paths and ways established by long use, which it considers to be legitimate parts of its transportation system, as well as the means of access to many places with great scenic and historical value. The county has prepared a computer database which identifies and geocodes the roads and RS-2477 rights of way identified within its jurisdiction as of August 11, 2004. This database is reflected in a printed map entitled GPS Roads 8-11-04 and dated August 11, 2004, which is adopted and incorporated into this General Plan by this reference. This map is not intended to be exhaustive of all claims, since the process of identifying and documenting rights of way is ongoing. This database and map include the county's claims pursuant to its RS-2477 rights, but they do not constitute a disclaimer of other rights-of-way which currently exist or may be established in the future. It is expected that the Bureau of Land Management will conform the transportation elements of its Resource Management Plan (RMP) to these claims, as required by FLPMA Section 1712(c)(9).2

Other Access:

Emery County's policy is to assert and defend public rights of way on as described above, and to promote public access to public lands wherever reasonable. These lands have retained wilderness characteristics despite over 100 years of use by various people. Emery County is opposed to efforts to make its scenic treasures inaccessible to the majority of the public.

Certain sites and scenic places in Emery County have historical and scenic values or are of local significance, but are at present unserved by roads accessible to motorized vehicles. If Emery County hopes to develop its tourist economy, new roads may be desirable from time to time. Emery County, therefore, opposes any efforts to cut off all future road development, but recognizes that such development may only be pursued in consultation with the land owners involved.

While the County recognizes that there must be limits on access and use for the benefit of the land and its various users and agrees with restrictions on such activities as traveling off established roads and trails or creating new ones without authority, it is Emery County's goal to preserve established, historic roads and trails, and to establish access to locations with scenic or historic significance in consultation with appropriate regulatory agencies.


In 1999, Emery County responded in opposition to the BLM's "reinventory" of purported wilderness in addition to its original designation of within its borders. It viewed and still views wilderness, whether imposed by directly designating lands as such or by "managing as wilderness" lands not so designated as wilderness. The county attempted to compromise on this issue, as well as other public lands management considerations, as stated in the 1995 edition of the Emery County Wilderness Proposal and H.R. 3625, a Bill to establish the San Rafael Swell National Heritage Area and the San Rafael National Conservation Area (Appendix H).

H.R. 3625 was introduced into the 105th Congress in April of 1998 and reintroduced in the following session, but was unsuccessful. It nevertheless reflects the desire of the County to participate in good faith in public land management decisions, including Wilderness designation, and the Emery County Wilderness Proposal remains an important supporting document for this General Plan, because it contains a record of public comments received at public hearings during the process of its adoption.

Public Lands Management Tools and Practices:

Emery County supports the wise use, conservation and protection of the nation's public lands and the resources associated with these lands, including prudent and appropriate management prescriptions established to achieve wise use.

However, Emery County opposes management options which would function to establish de facto wilderness. The inventory and designation of Wilderness Study Areas is complete as required by the Wilderness Act. Later attempts to add additional wilderness through purported "Wilderness Inventory" were inappropriate, inaccurate and illegal, and these lands should be returned to multiple use.This position has been born out by recent court decisions and a change of policy by the Department of the Interior.

Emery County recognizes that use of the public lands is increasing along with the impacts of such growth, and therefore supports reasonable management of these lands and the uses made of them in order to prevent, minimize or mitigate undesirable impacts. However, the County believes that additional wilderness designations, or plans which manage lands as wilderness, are not appropriate, effective or fair management prescription for lands which have not been legally established as wilderness pursuant to the Wilderness Act. Emery County believes that RMPs at the field office level are adequate, if effectively implemented, to provide the necessary and appropriate protection for these lands and resources. New designations or concepts are not a substitute for effective implementation of an RMP. Emery County's position is that local governments and local people can assist in the effective implementation of management policies when they are treated as partners, rather than adversaries. That is why the County's "San Rafael National Heritage/Conservation Area" plan was designed around an RMP and included provisions for improved management.

The county notes the use of designations and management criteria by some public land planners which appear to be designed to reinstate the Wilderness Inventory Units and "Citizens Proposed Wilderness Units" which have been struck down by the courts. Such designations as "Areas of Critical Environmental Concern" (ACEC) or Visual Resource Management (VRM) classifications are viewed by the County as attempts to circumvent court decisions, and policies of the Department of the Interior as well as local planning and interests, or to displace valid surface-occupying multiple-use activities. Such designations are improper tools unless narrowly drawn and tailored, both geographically and programmatically in order to achieve only those minimal restrictions which are actually necessary to prevent irreparable damage to valid and relevant resource values. Imposing such designations in the name of "protecting scenic values" is an improper use of these tools and is inconsistent with this General Plan, particularly when used to establish scenic values as paramount to other validly established uses.

Proposals to designate lands as open for specific uses should be available to the public and the County on a timely basis. If such use is not covered in a Resource Management Plan, it should be analyzed in a separate document or by amendment to the RMP. Extended delays or no action should not be used as tactics to achieve management goals contrary to planning by local authorities.

Livestock grazing on Public Lands:

Emery County supports continuation of established grazing rights on public lands and opposes measures designed to curtail them, except where dictated by sound science.

Permit holders are entitled to have access by motor vehicles to their allotments, and to be compensated for improvements made on those allotments when they are reduced or revoked.

Emery County opposes the conversion of livestock allocations to wildlife allocations as long as the land to which the allotment is associated still supports the grazing rights assigned to it. The only valid and legal justification for decreasing domestic livestock grazing AUM's and/or conversion of such rights to wildlife or any use other than domestic livestock grazing, is a well-documented, sound scientific finding that the range district in questions will no longer support the livestock grazing AUMs in question. When conditions change and range capacity improves, the County favors reinstating grazing AUMs. The County is concerned that so-called environmental groups are advocating conversion of grazing rights from livestock to wildlife and will scrutinize such conversions for bias against domestic livestock grazing and lack of valid scientific support. Emery County believes that public land managers should comply with and honor the domestic grazing preference on grazing districts and refrain from attempting to substitute their own views for public policy. While Emery County recognizes the need for markets for grazing rights, it opposes any forced reduction of grazing rights without just compensation to permit holders affected thereby or without sound scientific justification. Emery County further opposes sales or transfers of grazing rights to persons or organizations who do not own no livestock or who fail to use those rights or are known to be opposed to grazing rights generally.

State Trust Land Trades:

Emery County currently contains numerous tracts of land managed by the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) which are located throughout BLM, USFS, and privately owned holdings. These so-called "school trust lands" are governed by a policy to obtain maximum income from their use. Many of these lands are adjacent to private and federal lands with high income potential. As a part the land exchange between the State of Utah and the federal government, some of the school trust lands from within the Escalante-Grandstaircase National Monument were exchanged for federal lands in Emery County.

Emery County opposes any future proposal that would advocate the large scale exchange of federal lands in Emery County for school trust lands throughout other counties unless local inputs and concerns can be resolved to the County's satisfaction.

Emery County has a significant stake in any effort to influence management of state school trust lands within its boundaries and its policy is to assert its interests and those of its citizens in any future processes for the exchange of these lands and also to achieve a reasonable and balanced management strategy.

While it is not legally possible to acquire prescribed rights of way on state-owned lands, Emery County will advocate recognition of long established roads and trails on these lands whenever they are threatened by trades or other proposed disposition of such lands and are necessary for access to existing access rights.

Oil and Gas Exploration and Extraction:

Emery County is experiencing large-scale development of coal bed methane gas extraction. Emery County recognizes the development rights associated with oil and gas leases, and acknowledges the importance of oil and gas resources to the state and national economies. Emery County also recognizes the potential impacts on the landscape, subsurface, and overall environment, associated with these developments, which may impact traditional uses such as roads, watersheds, livestock grazing, wildlife habitat, view sheds, hunting, and recreational activities, and aquifers. Other concerns include noise pollution, dust control from roads and surface disturbances, the handling of saline water and its disposal, and safety concerns from potential dangers like escaping gases and/or fires and explosions.

Emery County expects cooperation from the government and private entities involved as permitting, regulatory, and management work is conducted to achieve an appropriate balance between the industry's development goals, government regulations, and the desires of Emery County to maintain its stated cultural values. Emery County expects cooperation from the industry and the various government entities in minimizing, mitigating, and compensation for the impacts of oil and gas development, including exploration, extraction, and transport. Emery County also requires that a high priority be given to the reclamation of all disturbances (both surface and sub-surface) prior to the issuance of any permits and/or authorizations in the form of contractual and bondable guarantees.

It is also the position of Emery County to seek the highest reasonable compensation to local entities from oil and gas development in the form of mineral lease royalties, property, severance and other taxes, appropriate fees, construction and maintenance of related infrastructure and the acquisition and maintenance of related equipment, as well as related personnel costs.

Emery County also states its desire and intent to add value to its natural resources and by-products at the local level whenever feasible. Examples of adding value to these resources and by-products would include local industrial and residential uses of gas and oil resources, and the rendering of waste water resources suitable for local surface uses.


Emery County supports continued management of public lands under the "multiple-use" and "sustained yield" principles. Emery County's definition of multiple-use includes, but is not limited to, traditional consumptive and non-consumptive uses such as grazing, recreation, including vehicular recreation where reasonable, timber harvest, wilderness, mining, oil/gas exploration and development, agriculture, wildlife, historic and prehistoric cultural resources, and watershed.

County industries such as agriculture, timber, grazing, tourism, and mining depend on the continued use and availability of public land and its resources. Because decisions to alter the management and use of these resources directly impact County interests, Emery County must become an active partner in the preservation, protection, and prudent management of natural resources, including local cultural heritage resources. Emery County recognizes the urgency for properly focused planning and coordination among the various entities, during resource management decision-making processes, to address increasing demands on public lands. Other wise, these resources may be lost if appropriate actions and programs are not implemented. To help accomplish this goal, the County has established a series of Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) between Emery County and the BLM, the USFS, SITLA and the Utah Department of Natural Resources. The County favors including the Utah Department of Environmental Quality in such MOUs.

All public land agency management plans and proposals will be reviewed according to the County's concept of multiple-use as explained herein. The County will respond in a timely and appropriate manner to these management plans or resource-use decisions.

Because the management of public land directly affects the lives and livelihoods of local citizens, the County asserts that public land management agencies have an obligation to identify and address all environmental and economic impacts that might result from decisions to alter or discontinue traditional resource uses. The County will continue working to ensure that these impacts are fully considered by agencies during the decision-making process.

Water rights:

This plan includes extensive discussion and policy statements regarding the County's water resources, which apply both to public and private lands. It should nevertheless be reemphasized that Emery County opposes all efforts to designate any of its creeks, rivers, draws and dry washes in such a way as to diminish the ability of Utah and Emery County to put its water resources to beneficial use. In particular, the county opposes Wild and Scenic Rivers designation of any of its streams, especially those without year-round flow, which could result in assertions of minimum water flows preempting upstream appropriation or reallocation of water rights for the benefit of Emery County businesses, communities and other water users. Utah is a member of the Colorado Compact and Emery County believes that such an application of Wild and Scenic Rivers Act would violate its rights under said Compact.

Implementation Measures:

To ensure greater County involvement in public land management, the County will:

a. continue to actively participate in all relevant public land management decisions;

b. continue to support multiple-use management and recognition of local planning in dealings with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), United States Forest Service (USFS), state and federal environmental agencies, and state agencies such as State Institutions Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), the Division of Wildlife Resources,State (DWR), the Division of Oil, Gas and Mining, lands (DOGM); and the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT); etc.

c. support responsible use and protection of public land resources;

d. identify historical, archeological, geological, scenic and scientific sites of value both to Emery County's preservation and documentation of its heritage and to the state and nation as a whole.

e. ensure that the County's access questions and concerns are accurately identified and adequately addressed by continuing its efforts described above to document and maintain its RS-2477 rights on roads that meet RS-2477 legal criteria and will participate in pertinent and current RS-2477 discussions and all other relevant federal and state land/road management decisions. continue to identify and document public rights-of-way and establish them in court.

f. When evaluating potential recreational developments and investments related to public lands the County will appoint a committee to evaluate its ability to provide essential services (law enforcement, emergency services, water and waste management, search and rescue);

g. Recreation impacts on traditional uses, e.g. campground expansion at the expense of grazing;

h. opportunities for family-related activities, e.g. additional campgrounds, interpretive markers, and walking trails;

i. facility development and maintenance "partnerships" with agencies and special interest groups, particularly regarding heritage sites.

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