Public lands continue to be a point of discussion in Emery County.
The Emery County Public Land Management bill is still moving slowly forward. Rep. Rob Bishop has chosen to take a multi-county approach. Other counties which may be included in the legislation include Carbon, Grand, San Juan, Uintah and Wayne. These counties are not as far along in their planning process as Emery County but they are holding public meetings and getting their information ready.
Rep. Bishop would like to have the bill ready to introduce in the fall.
Rep. Bishop and Rep. Jason Chaffetz will visit Emery County on Aug. 8 to talk about the Emery County Public Lands bill.
In a telephone conference with personnel from both representatives and the governors office, they shared information about the direction they see the bill taking.
Fred Ferguson from Rep. Bishop's office and Wade Garrett from Rep. Chaffetz's office are taking the lead in preparing the bill for Congress. Cody Stewart from the governor's office of public lands is also involved.
Ferguson said in February of this year Rep. Bishop reached out to the stakeholders and a full spectrum of groups invested in land management in Utah. Several meetings were held.
Emery, Grand, San Juan and Uintah counties were consulted to see where they are in their land use planning process. Emery County has been through a thorough process with input from grazers, oil and gas and mining interests, water users, motorized recreation groups and conservation groups. A larger bill which includes other counties and Emery County can address issues and direct lands issues for decades to come. A broader lands bill may help to get a bill completed and move the process along. There have been meetings and field trips on the ground to look at the lands included in the Emery County bill. An entire Eastern Utah package which includes wilderness and addresses the SITLA tradeout lands could attract support and offer a certainty and finality to the process for the folks in Eastern Utah indicated Ferguson.
The personnel from the Congressional offices said they are familiar with Emery County's process and their public lands meetings and attempts at legislation to finalize the public lands issues in the county. They believe Emery County is a model for how it should work and will be used as a template in the future for other counties. They hope to move the Emery County bill along intact and they believe including the other counties will help. They think that working together as a team with the counties, the governor's office and Washington representatives will bring the bill to reality and attract the support from motorized recreation interests as well as oil and gas and mining and sportsmen to actually get the bill passed.
Bishop's and Chaffetz' staff said they don't want to set dates on when the bill will be introduced but this summer will be used for work out in the field and for building credibility for the bill.
Stewart said the governor is behind the bill 100 percent and is excited about it.
The process must be kept open and transparent because at the end of the day Congress must vote on the bill and people from outside of Utah must pass off on the bill. A major component of the legislation is the chance for economic development on the SITLA land exchanges. These exchanges can create revenue for the counties. The environmentalists want protection but there still needs to be opportunities for economic development. The bill aims to identify those areas which need protection and those where development, including oil and gas exploration can take place. The governor is very supportive of moving forward with a product everyone can be happy with although realizing that everyone involved will need to make concessions and everyone will give up a little.
Ferguson said in the end it's the counties that will need to live with the final product and it's important to get their input.
Emery County Public Lands Director Ray Petersen said that is a good point because no one is more invested in seeing this bill succeed than the counties involved.
There is strength in a multi-county approach. It brings more resources to the table. This will be an advantage when the bill moves onto Washington.
Some of the counties are a lot farther along in the process than originally thought, with Emery County having the most done. Grand County and San Juan counties have been involved in land planning processes. Wayne County has been engaged from the very beginning. Uintah County is also very interested in potential SITLA land exchanges. At this point the other counties are working to catch up to Emery County.
The Washington personnel expressed their thanks to Ray Petersen for being willing to work with the other counties as they catch up. They expressed thanks for the field trips that have been very helpful in getting them out on the ground to see what Emery County has to offer.
All of the counties involved know there will be some wilderness in the bill. The other counties are busy getting input from the public.
SUWA has been involved somewhat in the process. They receive all of the letters and correspondence as well as information about the meetings. They are very interested in what's going on.
Rep. Bishop has met with Sally Jewell, newly appointed Director of the Dept. of Interior, replacing Ken Salazar and she was enthusiastic in her support for the concept of a grass roots effort by the people of Eastern Utah. She encouraged Rep. Bishop to move forward.
Washington personnel said they are seeing some support for the bill in Washington as they have talked to other Senators and Representatives. They see the need for grass roots public lands management. One Democratic Senator even told them he sees this approach as far superior to the America's Red Rock Wilderness Act. Red Rock is not attracting the support it has seen in the past.
There are areas that deserve protection. The people who live on the lands care the most about the lands and how they are managed. Actual people who live in Utah should have some say in how the lands are managed.
As long as the Antiquities Act is still being used the threat of a monument still exists. One of the concerns for Utahns is if and when decisions are made about public lands in Utah, then Utahns should have some say in the matter. Arbitrarily creating monuments doesn't give a voice to the people who live on the land. If a bill is passed which addresses wilderness, national conservation areas, oil, gas and mining concerns, water, recreation and grazing then the hope is it will take the threat of a monument off the table.
Rep. Bishop's level of seniority and his position in Congress could make a big difference as the multi-county bill moves forward.
Petersen said it is very fortunate timing to have Rep. Bishop in the position he is in at this time. Petersen said the county prepared a report to submit to the Utah Legislature. The county has since withdrawn the report waiting to see where this multi-county bill leads. But, when the time comes for the bill to move forward the bill would still need approval by the state legislature.
The Washington delegation said they are prepared to address the state legislature and meet their requirements.
Washington personnel said, "To push a bill through it will take serious compromise on all sides, it's not easy, it will take hard work. If the counties, state and the environmentalists don't put skin on the table and sacrifice, then it isn't going to happen."
It's also critical the SITLA land exchanges take place. It's important to trade out parcels within wilderness and NCA's. This brings benefits and funding for education and local job creation. The land exchange has broad support and is not difficult to push through indicated the Washington personnel.