Public lands debate continues
The March meeting of the public lands council centered around discussion for a facilitator to help Ray Petersen in the public lands department. The BLM gave a report to the council, they said the public comment period for the Lila Canyon road was at the end and they would respond to any comments on that and see if anything needs to be changed. Sherrel Ward asked about the gypsum mine, the permit was approved in December 2009 and it's up to the operator to proceed. The Buckhorn information center is moving along. There is a third party consultant doing the environmental analysis on that project, where an information booth will be constructed and a restroom facility. A concern was raised about the stock watering facility at the Buckhorn where the new information center will be. The project won't affect the well there. It was mentioned that it would be a good time to move the well.
A question was raised of where the county is with the law suit on six roads in the Swell. Petersen said the lawsuit is alive and well and was never dropped. Interviews are being conducted and it is in the discovery stage of proceedings.
Mark H. Williams told the BLM that the buildings at Temple Mountain are deteriorating rapidly and he wondered if something can be done there to preserve that culture and mining heritage. He suggested obtaining grants or some type of funding to keep these buildings from being lost. The BLM will look into what's available for projects of this type.
Pam Juliano gave the congressional report for Rep. Jim Matheson. He drafted a letter to Sec. Salazar opposing any monument designations in Utah. Matheson believes that's the wrong way to go about land use bills and the local stakeholders should be involved in the process. Things should proceed from the bottom up and not the top down. Juliano mentioned the Town Hall phone calls Matheson has where constituents can make comments and ask questions. To register go to Matheson's website and sign-up to be involved.
Marc Stilson reported on bills affecting water rights in Utah.
Bill Bates from the Division of Wildlife Resources said the March RAC meetings will deal with changing hunt strategies. They will consider a split season for hunts and look at combining deer and elk hunts. After the new adjustments are made, he would like to host an open house in the county to make hunters aware of any changes.
In the SITLA report, Bryan Torgerson said the Range Creek exchange is finalized and the University of Utah will manage that property. There is a problem with a trash site outside of Elmo. The site will need extensive clean-up with heavy equipment.
The acting forest service district ranger Kurt Davis reported the environmental assessment on the Reeder subdivision will go to the forest supervisor for final approval and hopefully that will be done soon so work can be completed on that road this season.
Davis reported the Castle Dale forest service house property studies are complete and that too will be sent to the forest supervisor so Castle Dale can have the property to expand the fairgrounds. A new district ranger will take over on March 28. He is coming to the region from Montana and his wife has family in Orangeville. March 26 will be Davis' last day. Petersen recommended before Davis leaves they should go look at the land exchange property for Crandall Canyon. The forest service is currently hiring seasonal employees and applications can be picked up at the forest office.
Ron Dean from Sen. Orrin Hatch's office said the Senator has had conversations with the president and the secretary of the interior concerning monuments in Utah and he has expressed his opposition. It seems at the higher levels of government, they are substantially unaware of the local process for a land use bill taking place. Even though Pres. Obama is the one who signed the Washington County legislation, they are mostly unaware of local processes taking place in Beaver/Piute, San Juan and Emery counties and other groups statewide who are working on land use bills.
Hatch has received the assurance that nothing is imminent, but that's the same language Pres. Bill Clinton used before he designated the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in 1996. Sen. Hatch said, once bitten, twice shy. Dean said as they move away from the top in their discussions the interim officials are more aware of what's going on in the local areas. Dean cautioned, "You may endanger your process if it appears it's going nowhere. The officials say the question of where monuments should be was just thrown out, like a wish list of what you'd like to see and the Cedar Mesa and San Rafael Swell popped up on this list. These areas are not new to the discussion of monuments. Some level of protection for these lands has been toyed with since the late 80s and early 90s through today.
Questions from the audience voiced worry that if things are done from the top down, if they want a monument then that's what they'll get. Dean said, that is possible and the president can designate it regardless of what the locals want. He said these types of decisions are political, they are not scientifically based decisions.
The question was asked if Utah can become exempt to these uses of the Antiquities Act. Dean replied the Washington delegation is working on that approach. Dean suggested the people should write to the policy makers outside of the intermountain west who might not understand public lands issues in Utah. Let them know what these public lands mean to you. "There is a misunderstanding in Congress about the public lands in the west, just like I might not understand what's going on with the Mississippi River. Sen. Hatch wouldn't introduce legislation for regulations along the Mississippi River," said Dean.
Dean said the lands council needs to continue to make progress towards their public land use bill and to keep the delegation informed. The Washington delegation is there and they are willing to go to the president and say hang on. Guy Webster on the lands council wondered if Sen. Hatch will support the Emery County land bill and help to push it through. Dean said Hatch has an opposition to others trying to dictate to Utah. He likes development, he has supported wilderness, he's not in favor of people in Mississippi making land management decisions in Utah. The 112th Congress will begin in January and Dean suggested shooting for having a bill ready to introduce at that time.
Dean said if the county can do legislation like the Washington County bill then Congress recognized at that time that the locals can solve these issues. Some in Congress didn't support it, they wanted an administrative solution. In a good local solution every entity won't get everything they want, but maybe 75-85 percent of what they want. Dean suggested a wide variety of viewpoints in a local document would stand more chance of support and should include a lot of elements.
Randall Stilson, lands council member had a question about the wilderness study areas. Dean said these WSAs will be held as WSAs until Congress designates them as wilderness or releases them. Dean said Sen. Hatch also has Town Hall phone discussions and encouraged interested people to get involved.
The council began the discussion on a facilitator to help in the public lands department. Commissioner Gary Kofford said last year the public lands council voted to pursue a land use bill. Kofford talked about the Bureau of Land Management Resource Management plan. He said the county has 450,000 acres in wilderness study areas. He doesn't see those opening back up again. The RMP was an extensive, expensive 10 year process and everyone had the opportunity for input into that management document. The comments were all considered and several hearings were held. The RMP is being appealed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. After the comments were considered and two additional years of work went into the document it was signed and accepted by the BLM. "No bill will ever solve everything," commented Kofford. He said the RMP offers and describes solutions to get through problems. The RMP settled issues for grazing, minerals, wild and scenic river, water, transportation, they were all addressed. "Some areas didn't get all they wanted, but the RMP sets up a way to address it. No allotments were cut," said Kofford.
Kofford said the county needs to figure out a way to designate wilderness and put the RMP into the land use bill for the county and move forward. Kofford said, "We need a mediator to try to make sure everyone has the opportunity to have input."
Alan Peterson said, "We've had this discussion and debate. I feel what this group (lands council) is working on is the right way. Yes, there is always the threat of the magic pen. I thought a monument was wrong. I was part of the group trying to prevent that."
Petersen said he doesn't know if the movement for an Emery County land use bill had any affect when the Red Rock Wilderness had a hearing last year, but a commonsense person has to look and see that the process isn't perfect, but the locals are moving forward. If Congress designates wilderness in Emery County, I don't see Congress wanting to revisit it. The rest of the land comes back into use. Like in Washington County, it's not perfect. The OHV clubs will know where to ride, the oil and gas will know where to apply for permits. Until it's done the debate will go on. For 25 years there have been WSAs and I've adjusted. We have a responsibility to be involved as an individual. No matter what your institution. Passionate people get involved. Be prepared to not get exactly what you want. If we get a bill passed then life can move on.
Kofford said the lands council is supposed to be representative of all interests in the county, oil and gas, transportation, recreation, water, grazing, OHV, etc. In the last meeting it was mentioned the county was considering taking money from SUWA to help fund a facilitator position. But, the people said, no, so we threw that idea out the window. If we settle the land use issues here, then SUWA won't be out there fighting it. Ray is staff for the public lands council. The public lands council after a series of meetings voted to proceed and to look at legislation for a public land use bill. A series of public meetings were held. I'm convinced there will be wilderness. Help is needed. There is $12,500 in the budget for technical assistance. We can use that money to hire a facilitator to assist Ray. The idea of other funding came up, there was no decision, no contract. It was an idea. It was very clear that idea was not acceptable to the people. We sent out a press release that said that idea was no longer on the table. But, most stakeholders think the facilitator is a good idea. It was done improperly and voted on when it shouldn't have been. A facilitator is not a decision maker. There is an agenda item before the council to support the hiring of a facilitator. They would help with the field trips. They would keep the stakeholders on track. They wouldn't represent anyone. We need to get something done. Ray Petersen would be the supervisor of that position. The subcommittees have prepared their information in their specific areas and this information is ready to be included in the bill.
The public comments geared towards getting a draft bill ready and prepared so the public will have something to comment on. Several drafts may be needed before a final document is ready. Draft language could be complete within a month. Most of the public comments were in favor of a facilitator position and getting Petersen an assistant in the public lands department. Mike Swenson from USA-ALL said he supports a facilitator position but the public perception of Emery County taking money from SUWA would be fatal. He encouraged the council to get a draft bill on the table, but not to get bogged down with legislative language.
The lands council tabled the issue of the facilitator until a future meeting. The commissioners indicated they may take action on getting Petersen some help in an upcoming commission meeting.