Lands council begins series of meetings
The Emery County Public Lands Council is holding a series of meetings to inform the public and to solicit input on a comprehensive land use bill which may include wilderness designation. A month ago, the lands council voted to begin the process for a lands use bill for Emery County similar to the Washington County Lands Use Bill which recently passed in Congress. Information gathered will also be used to rewrite the public lands portion of the Emery County General Plan. Various topics were identified for which information will be gathered in the public meeting process as well as from other sources.
The meetings began with cultural and historical resources on July 15 and travel and transportation on July 16 along with wildlife on July 21. A meeting on utility corridors and rights of way, will be held July 28 at 7 p.m. A meeting addressing water rights and water use is scheduled simultaneously for July 28 at 7 p.m. Grazing and livestock will be addressed at 7 p.m on July 29. On July 30, the topic will be mineral exploration and extraction. All meetings begin at 7 p.m. and are held upstairs at the county building, on Main Street in Castle Dale. A second meeting is scheduled for the travel and transportation issue on Aug. 12 at 7 p.m.
Ray Petersen,Emery County Public Lands Director conducted the meeting on cultural and historical resources. The meeting was sparsely attended, but some good content came from those in attendance. Petersen said, "The public lands council is exploring to see if there is any wisdom in federal legislation and possible wilderness designation. The public lands council voted unanimously to explore this possibility and identified issues to get out before the public. The meetings will craft Emery County's positions on the resource use. There is currently no wilderness in Emery County, but there are about 450,000 acres of Wilderness Study Areas which were designated by congress in 1983." Petersen identified the WSAs in the county including, Crack Canyon, Devil's Canyon, Muddy Creek, Sid's Mountain, Mexican Mountain, San Rafael Reef, Desolation Canyon and Horseshoe Canyon. Petersen said the likelihood of wilderness designation is not going away anytime soon. The support for the America's Red Rock Wilderness Act grows in Congress each year. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance introduces this bill in Congress each year and the list of supporters grows each year. "We've seen the Red Rock Wilderness Act grow from about 500,000 acres when it was first introduced, to more than 1 million acres in the current version. In the Washington County bill approximately 250,000 acres of wilderness was designated including about half in Zion's National Park and the other half on Bureau of Land Management Lands.
The Washington County bill may have been the first step in finalizing the wilderness issue in Utah. Very strong and precise language in the bill declares that the inventory process for wilderness is completed in Washington County. Lands not designated as wilderness in the bill cannot be reinventoried or re-evaluated for wilderness in the future.
Petersen said retention of current resource use, including recreation, mining, transportation, trails, water rights and water uses, hunting and grazing is the highest priority in forming this land use plan.
Petersen presented part of the current Emery County General Plan as it pertains to heritage and cultural areas. This plan states:
"Emery County recognizes the need for diversification of its economy, with an emphasis on sustainable, local businesses. The development of a heritage area with its related heritage industries and heritage tourism offers the potential to address, in part, the need for economic diversification. Emery County views the growth of tourism as a significant trend in the future.
Many of the major attractions for tourism in Emery County are associated with public lands, the history and the stories of the region area as fascinating and colorful as any to be found, and are as much a part of the landscape as the desert cliffs and the mountain peaks. By combining these elements of scenic landscapes with the stories they tell, Emery County has the potential to create a unique visitor attraction of national significance. The development of this type of industry offers potential for much needed economic diversity and an economic component that can be sustainable over a long period of time without depletion of natural resources or damage to the lands, culture and heritage so highly valued by the people of the county. Emery County views the development of heritage and tourism related businesses as central components of its future economy. Emery County is becoming an active partner in the preservation, protection, and prudent management of our natural resources, including local cultural heritage resources and must continue to be a strong voice on behalf of local interests. Otherwise, these resources may be lost if appropriate actions and programs are not implemented."
The Heritage Resources subcommittee has begun to compile an exhaustive, comprehensive inventory of Heritage Sites as part of this process. Petersen said it's wise to inventory the sites even without pending federal legislation. Vernell Rowley of the public lands council and the historical preservation committee displayed a map he has been developing with historical and cultural sites identified on the map and a more detailed description written down to be included with the map. Petersen said old and current photographs should be cataloged and the Information Technology department at the county can work on the GPS coordinates of all the sites to be placed on a map. Rowley said Emery County has a rich historical background. He identified some of the sites on his map. He pointed out in Kane Wash, a crude oil seep which is in a WSA. He showed the site of a shoot-out with a posse and outlaws. He showed the mineral districts on the Swell and the sites of old mines. There is an old CCC camp, historical watering hole at Red Seeps, many trails including the Spanish Trail, Capt. Loring trail, Manly trail and many other notable sites, both cultural and historic as well as prehistoric. Petersen encouraged everyone to begin their information gathering to submit to the public lands council.
An audience member questioned whether the wilderness advocates would stop pursuing Emery County if the current WSAs were designated wilderness. He said Washington County has more private lands than Emery County. "What do we have to gain? Would it be a permanent resolution to wilderness? Petersen responded, saying that the best thing about the Washington County Bill, and the best thing that Emery County would accomplish through a land use bill, would be finalizing the wilderness designation issue in Emery County. When Congress passed the Washington County Bill, it said the process had been completed and everything had been inventoried in accordance with the Federal Land Policy Management Act and the process was complete. Petersen said in preparing a bill, if at any point the language in the bill becomes problematic and doesn't solve any issues then the county would pull it and not support it.
Petersen asked the audience if they thought the idea for legislation was a good or bad idea. One person said, "If we give up we have nothing. We need to keep fighting for it. I think it's wise to consider legislation."
Public comments will be taken until Aug. 15. The group was encouraged to take advantage of materials already available on the sites of Emery County. There are several books available and different groups which are identifying such things as old cemeteries, paleo and archaeological sites. A second meeting is scheduled for the Travel and Transportation Issue on August 12 at 7 p.m.Management Act and the process was complete. Petersen said in preparing a bill, if at any point the language in the bill becomes problematic and doesn't solve any issues then the county would pull it and not support it.
Petersen asked the audience if they thought the idea for legislation was a good or bad idea. One person said, "If we give up, we have nothing. We need to keep fighting for it. I think it's wise to consider legislation."
Public comments will be taken until Aug. 15.
The group was encouraged to take advantage of materials already available on the sites of Emery County. There are several books available and different groups which are identifying such things as old cemeteries, paleontological and archaeological sites.
A second meeting is scheduled for the travel and transportation issue on Aug. 12 at 7 p.m.