The Wilderness Society has asked to be part of the Emery County Public Lands Council effort in drafting a bill concerning land use in the county. They presented a map in the February lands council meeting. The council members were instructed to take the wilderness society map and study it and compare it to the map the lands council has prepared. At first glance it appears the Wilderness Society map encompasses much more land than the map prepared by the lands council. In the field trips and discussion meetings the lands council map shows the areas which have been wilderness study areas and asks for wilderness designation for these areas. Other areas in need of special protection included National Conservation Areas called the San Rafael Swell Western Heritage and Historic Mining National Conservation Area and the Wild Horse Mesa National Conservation Area.
The lands council met in a work meeting recently to discuss the Wilderness Society map. Public lands director Ray Petersen led the meeting. He prepared a questionnaire with areas of concern including Mexican Mountain, Cedar Mountain, West Horseshoe Canyon, Hondu/Penitentiary, Wild Horse Mesa, Salt Wash/Moroni Slopes, upper Little Wildhorse and the Muddy Creek trail.
The council voted their preferences on the areas mentioned whether they agreed with the Wilderness Society designations for these areas. In most areas the votes were nay, they didn't agree with the wilderness society proposals; there were a couple of yes votes which meant they did agree in specific areas and there were a few question marks which meant it wasn't cut and dried, but some of these areas could be discussed. Boundaries could be discussed as well as designations. Petersen said the poll was unscientific, but he just wanted to have a direction to go in. Some areas aren't up for discussion and they would be bypassed, but there are areas where some discussion could take place. The council agreed the Muddy Creek Trail should be open.
Mark H Williams was concerned about the language for the creation of the NCA, he wants the Bureau of Land Management to be able to go in and restore the old houses at the mining sites. He would like language to reflect that. It was decided the details of the management of each particular NCA will be created in the NCA management plan after the designation is made, there will be an advisory council formed that will take care of the details of the management.
Guy Webster wants to see controlled burns and predator control allowed in the wilderness areas.
There was some discussion on if the land use bill passes will there be a hard release of the lands included in the land use bill.
Randy Johnson said yes they are working on a policy that says what's done is done and once the Emery County lands are dealt with they can't be included in future land issues. He along with Commissioner JR Nelson will be meeting with Rep. Rob Bishop on this issue as well as several other land use issues in Washington D.C. Priscilla Burton, lands council member said once the land has a label then why address it again, which is the point of the hard release of the lands.
The question was raised whether the land use bill should include the forest. No work has been done by the council on the forests, but the forest service has done wilderness inventories in the past and their data could be used. Chairperson Bruce Wilson suggested the council stick with the desert-BLM lands until that is complete and if there is time, under Rep. Bishop's time table then they could tackle the forest lands to be included in the land use bill.
The forest service already has a travel map in place which could be used. Val Payne, land use consultant said the forest service in three months will have a new planning rule and they will go back and address travel and other issues.
In the Wild Horse Mesa area, the lands council recommendation is an NCA. The Wilderness Society recommends the area for wilderness. Petersen said there would be clashes there if it was designated wilderness because there is a lot of dispersed camping in the area. The Wilderness Society also has wilderness drawn right up to the road which can cause conflicts. There are also mining interests in the area.
In the area of the West Mexican Mountain wilderness which is currently managed as a wilderness study area, the lands council recommended wilderness there and the Wilderness Society agreed, but expanded the area.
There was some discussion of the Utah School and Institutional Trustlands within the proposed land use bill. The trustlands need to be identified which will be traded out and the lands they are traded into must be identified. It will have to be dealt with if the bill is to pass. SITLA is currently working on the trustland tradeouts. The council will meet with SITLA to have these discussions. Grazers are concerned about their grazing permits should the SITLA permits pass to BLM and vice versa. Language must be in place in the bill so the trading can occur.
Petersen said one of their recommendations is to open Sid's Leap Road. Some of the roads the county wishes reopened are involved in the lawsuit at this time.
Petersen said mining rights still exist within NCA. Webster said wilderness around Goblin Valley area doesn't make sense. Johnson said valid roads can be protected within a NCA, but don't expect multiple spurs to the same area to remain open.
The Wilderness Society members, Brad Barber and Julie Mack joined the meeting. Petersen said the meeting today, wasn't to draw final boundaries, but to let the wilderness society know how the lands council feels about the boundaries and designations recommended by the wilderness society and why. Areas including the West Mexican Mountain area the wilderness society has recommended to enlarge those areas of wilderness and also the Cedar Mountain area has been enlarged on the wilderness society map.
In the Salt Wash/Moroni slopes area the lands council recommended no designation and the wilderness society recommended wilderness.
Petersen said in the West Mexican Mountain Area the BLM has it designated as a natural area, the lands council recommended an NCA in that area as opposed to wilderness. This area is a main thoroughfare to the swinging bridge and other attractions. There is an airstrip in the area and much camping and grazing. The lands council agreed that large areas of wilderness will make enforcement a nightmare especially with dispersed camping in high use areas.
Barber said in their proposals they were thinking about what makes good and manageable boundaries.
Mike McCandless, economic development director said high use areas in historical areas are not conducive to wilderness because they have more recreational uses. The council doesn't see those areas fitting the criteria for wilderness.
The wilderness society has roads marked on their map where they want further discussion at some point in the process.
The grazers expressed concern about getting into wilderness areas to fix their ponds and do maintenance work. Mack said if the work in the bill is done right to begin with problems with permittees will be minimized.
Payne said the county has been living with wilderness study areas for more than 20 years and they have been managed like wilderness. If areas become true designated wilderness then they will have a management plan where needs like the grazers have can be addressed. "We don't have that opportunity with the WSA," said Payne.
Webster spoke in particular about wilderness boundaries too close to Green River in areas slated for economic development. He disagreed with any designations in those areas near the industrial park which would limit or inhibit future development. Any areas where there might be future uranium mining were also discussed. The Swell has uranium and testing says it is low grade, but still useful. Audience member and mine owner in the Hidden Splendor area, John Anderson said one of the big reasons mining in the Swell went away was because the uranium prices went down and mining there wasn't profitable any more.
No new mining claims could be developed in an NCA, but current mining claims could reactivate within an NCA.
Many routes exist to these mining claims that have been closed off. Johnson said the explorers and geologists that developed those mines and routes are an essential part of Emery County's heritage. "I've never met a group of more optimistic people than those involved in mining exploration. Access is important. The hard work of these miners, is a core part of any designation and mining history a major part of the NCA," said Johnson.
Petersen said in the Wildhorse Mesa area where the lands council has designation as NCA, the wilderness society has wilderness designation there. Petersen said the state parks do not want wilderness there. They agree with the NCA. Barber said they want wilderness areas that are away from the dispersed camping areas.
Petersen said more field trips are needed to areas where there are questions. They will hold further work meetings in the future as the Emery County lands use bill continues to move along.