Monument concept discussed by council
The Emery County Public Lands Council met in their regularly scheduled meeting on Oct. 8. Members present were Vernell Rowley, Kirk Johansen, Joe Fielder, Craig Johansen, Chairman Dennis Worwood, Dickson Huntington, Wes Curtis and Commissioners Ira Hatch, Drew Sitterud and Randy Johnson.
The approval of the previous meeting's minutes was the first item on the agenda. The next item was the subcommittee reports. Curtis was first with the Heritage subcommittee report. He talked about the monument concept. He said, "As I think about what we're proposing, it is one of the most important things Emery County has ever considered to maintain a degree of control and influence. I can't think of a time when a President has said to a county, 'What do you think?' The process for evaluation is unprecedented. It would be a shame if it fell apart. We are hearing stories and complaints and nightmare stories of what will happen if a monument is designated.
"Those are the things we are trying to avoid with the monument concept. Those things will happen if we turn our future over to Washington and to the environmentalists. What we're doing is risky, but it is also less risky than the alternative. There are concerns in people's minds as to what it's going to look like. We've created a draft document that describes what we're proposing. We've been listening to concerns and we've drafted a document to flesh out what we're proposing. The draft is to explain our position and what's being proposed. The President has said he will not move forward without our OK and the things that we've asked for have been incorporated.
"We want to put this draft document in front of the public and let them know where we are with this. These items are where the monument needs to be and if those needs are not addressed then we would withdraw our support. We want to focus on historic themes on heritage tourism and economic opportunities. The heritage and history will set it apart and distinquish it. It will be a multiple use visitor friendly and visitor oriented monument. We want to enhance visitor facilities and interactive activities. We see it as a tourist destination. The 620,000 acres are a logical size which follows the natural upheaval of the Swell.
"Appropriate access is vital to visitors. The route designation plan is being worked on by the BLM and we hope and expect that will become the monument travel plan. All other uses hinge on access, grazing, scientific and paleontological as well as archaeological uses all depend on access.
"A monument advisory council would be established with local representation and ongoing representation. This will help maintain the local perspective. Ranching will be highlighted as a historical use and as part of the landscape and would be protected as part of history.
"We stress local involvement in the monument management plan. The monument provides a high level of protection. The current wilderness study areas will be managed as they are now under FLPMA non-impairment status. All existing rights on the Swell will remain valid," said Curtis.
Commissioner Johnson said we need to get this in front of the public and let them see the concepts and the standards we expect to have. We envision a visitor friendly monument, not a science museum. Access effects all other uses. We view the opportunity to participate with an advisory council as essential. We already have cooperating agency status.
Craig Johansen said he recommended to the council that they endorse the draft document and get it out to the public.
Huntington said he had contacted members of the grazing subcommittee and discussed the draft document. He said the livelihood of the ranchers is connected to their winter grazing. On the Swell there are 60 permittees, 37 allotments and 26,000 animal unit months (AUM). The estimated value of these permits is between $1-3 million. These guys put out a lot of money for these permits. With more tourists on the Swell grazing will come under closer scrutiny. Environmentalists will exert big pressure to cut cows. If there was a need to cut permits then the permittees should be paid and paid well. There is a history of struggles with grazing on monuments. The guys have a lot invested out there.
Commissioner Johnson wondered if they were saying to give the BLM permission to sell off permits. Kash Winn, cattleman spoke to the council. He said they didn't want a definite dollar amount written in, but some kind of wording that cattlemen would be justly compensated in the event that grazing was reduced from increased pressure due to tourism. The permittees want the assurance that they will be protected. The permittees fear that with increased pressure they might lose permits.
Commissioner Hatch said this might be setting a precedence they didn't want to get into.
Winn said grazing will be maintained under the current plan, but in the historical process grazing has had to yield to other uses and it is documented. He felt grazers should be entitled to some compensation by the governing agency.
Winn wanted the number of AUMs to be protected. Commissioner Hatch reminded him that with or without a monument we can't guarantee numbers won't be reduced. Rowley felt the wording all traditional uses will be protected by law would offer grazers protection to maintain their current use.
Commissioner Johnson said that defending grazing as being important to the area and as a historical use will be built in. Huntington said the cattlemen need protection. Winn said that grazing is an economic value and there are few others with that value except maybe outfitters. Fielder saw grazing as a valid use. Kathleen Truman from state history said in many legal cases they say that grazing does not qualify as a valid existing right. Huntington said that argument has been going on for a long time and that in some cases grazing is receiving validation.
Craig Johansen said there should be no AUM reductions without just compensation and that grazing within the monument should be a showcase situation where fences and ponds are all working and in good repair. Perhaps part of the money involved through the Heritage Area could be brought in and some of it could go to ranching and grazing as heritage to put on display. Johansen also envisioned cattlemen taking people along on trail rides for a taste of the cowboy life.
Curtis said we can't make any promises that we can't keep. There is no financial structure in the BLM to fund buyouts. In the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument it was a case of willing buyer and willing seller. Legally you can't retire an allotment and that has been the challenge. The Grand Canyon Trust who bought the allotments within the GSENM now have to get into the cattle business.
Winn wondered if the language could be watered down to say, 'Should be compensated.' Curtis said it could read that we would work with the BLM and all other entities to find ways to compensate and work to make sure it happens.
Commissioner Johnson said they expect there wouldn't be any reductions in AUMs. Worwood commented that the first permits bought by the nature conservancy were here in Emery County. There are people out to destroy grazing with or without a monument.
It was pointed out that conflicts will exist and continue to exist with or without a monument. Hikers and cows don't always mix and perhaps someone will have to yield. Winn said that with monument status it will bring more awareness, interest and publicity to the area.
Huntington said that there have already been reductions in that area and they want to hold firm to where it's at now. It was pointed out that they want the grazing to remain consistent throughout the county and that any language should include all of Emery County not just within the monument area. The idea being that the AUMs remain as they are.
It was agreed that the language would be added to the draft document to give added protection to the grazers. It was also agreed that they would hold one public hearing to present the draft document to the public. The meeting was set for Oct. 26 at 6:30 p.m. at the Museum of the San Rafael. They also agreed to place copies of the draft document in public places to help get the information out to the public.
Curtis also reported that the current Heritage Bill is going to happen and they are watching it and hopefully it will make it through.
Craig Johansen was next with the water subcommittee report. He said he felt like they have a dragon to slay with the wild and scenic river issue. He said they have formed a wild and scenic river committee which includes Morris Sorensen from the Muddy drainage, Roger Barton from Ferron, Craig Johansen from the Cottonwood and Lee McElprang from the Huntington as well as Jay Mark Humphrey from the Emery Water Conservancy and Darrel Leamaster from the Castle Valley Special Service District. This committee has met with the BLM and the forest service once and have other meetings planned. Right now the BLM and the forest service are talking about nominations for eligibility. The rivers are nominated through an evaluation process. There are three different classes with differing degrees of protection. We have been invited to participate and we're going to participate.
He said once the process is over the streams and washes designated as suitable will go through the NEPA process. Through the NEPA process if it is deemed suitable then the river is managed as designated until it is designated by Congress.
"My position is that I don't want any period. That's where I stand and we'll work to reduce the number and effects it could have on us. Any designation effects everything we do upstream," said Johansen.
The question was asked if during the process a river could be designated as ineligible. Johansen said they don't class them as ineligible, they just don't move through the process. He said he hopes more fall out along the way.
Commissioner Sitterud commented that it doesn't matter if it has water in it or not. A half a mile corridor of wilderness also comes with wild river designation. Commissioner Johnson said they have been worrying about wild and scenic rivers for years now. Huntington Creek clear to Skyline Mine is on the list and it effects everything from the top of the water shed to the Green River.
Worwood compared the wild and scenic rivers to tailgating a manure spreader, you either duck or it hits you in the face.
Commissioner Johnson gave the report on public lands day. It was held on Sept. 28 at Swasey's Cabin. He said work was done to replace the roof on the cabin, trail work, fence installation and repair and cement work was done by the restroom.
Huntington reported that the Quivera Grazing Conference has been scheduled for Dec. 13-14 in Moab at the Red Cliff Lodge. The soil conservation district is a co-sponsor of the event. The first day will include speakers and the second day will include a field trip.
Worwood pointed out that Crocket Dumas former district ranger in our area worked with this group while in New Mexico. They worked to solve problems with the environmentalists instead of butting heads. The ranchers made money and the environmental concerns were settled.
Winn said the Quivera had good intentions and that it came from an environmental background. They work around problems and left and right come together. Grass banks and other ideas dealing with creating a better environment and improving profits are used.
Worwood said one of the cattlemen had an endangered species on his land and that he has a bird expert come and count the birds every year and they have grown to the largest population in the area. The rancher is grazing and the birds are growing.
Huntington asked for the support of the council in helping to bring the conference to our area. The conference will attract ranchers from all over Southeastern Utah.
Fielder gave an update on the land exchange. He said it was held up in Congress over the valuation issues of the state lands compared to the federal lands to be exchanged. The bill passed the House on Oct. 7 and has moved into the Senate. The land exchange is not tied to the monument in any way and the land has been in the process of being exchanged for quite some time.
Mesia Nyman from the forest service was next with their update. She handed out copies of the recently completed draft roads analysis to the council.
Tom Rasmussen from the BLM was next with an update. He said they are working on the route designation. They received 13,000 comments which they have had to review but it should be out by next month. They will be performing an EIS in Kimball Draw pertaining to US Gypsum entering the area for mining. Phillips wants to drill 80-90 new wells which will include 50 new drill pads in the Drunkards Wash gas field. They have come to realize the edges of the field are more productive than first thought in the beginning. Some of these wells are outside the boundaries of the original EIS and will need a supplemental EIS. "I would like to thank the Emery County Commissioners and the public lands council for their cooperation in working with BLM. I have accepted a position as field manager in Lakeview, Ore. and will report to work there on Dec. 1. Emery County does the most progressive work of any county in the United States in public lands," said Rasmussen.
Commissioner Hatch thanked Rasmussen for his work with the county and for picking up the slack as acting manager during the interim before Patrick Gubbins arrived as new field manager.
The BLM has granted the right of way for the full length of the Moore cut-off road project. Rasmussen said they are expecting the decision to be appealed by SUWA at the last minute.
Under other business, Ramal Jones spoke to the council concerning his recent presentation at the resource forum for the monument concept. He wondered if his report to Gary Armstrong should include information about areas beyond the monument boundaries. He asked for guidance in the matter.
Commissioner Johnson said that any report on the paleontological resources and finds in Emery County would be appropriate. We can't sweep everything into the monument boundaries. Cleveland/Lloyd dinosaur quarry has been included as a separate island. Any data you submit won't hurt us, it will show what a remarkable area we have. We've heard it from both sides of the paleo issue. A monument won't disrupt research but protect it.
Peggy Harrison from Congressman Chris Cannon's office said that Tim Stewart had plans to place our Heritage Bill within the omnibus bill. She also mentioned the livestock compensation plan for losses sustained from the drought which will be administered through local farm service agencies which Cannon supported.
The BLM information meeting is scheduled for Nov. 21 in Castle Dale.
The council adjourned to executive session to discuss the applicants for the public lands council director position which was vacated when Val Payne took a job with the state.
The next public lands meeting will be held on Nov. 12 at 10 a.m.