|Emery County Commissioner Randy Johnson discusses the monument concept during the rural summit.|
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in a four-part series which deals with issues facing rural Utah.
The Utah Rural Summit was held on Sept. 4-6 at Southern Utah University in Cedar City. The theme for the conference was, "Has the Old West Left Town." Several Emery and Carbon county community and business leaders were in attendance.
One of the issues that is always at the forefront in rural Utah is how to deal with the public lands which make up so much of our counties. Emery County is trying a bold approach in dealing with public lands and this issue was discussed at the summit.
Emery County Commissioner Randy Johnson gave one of the breakout sessions entitled, "Why another National Monument?" Commissioner Johnson began by assuring the audience that Emery County and the governor have not lost their sanity and that he would try to explain the rationale behind the bold move.
Commissioner Johnson explained that Emery County has been at it for a long time. In 1994-95, Emery County became a pilot county for the Coalition for Utah's future. Well over 80 percent of the lands in the county are public lands. As part of the plan in dealing with public lands the public lands council was formed with a full-time administrator and a $250,000 budget. Eleven people make up this council with various backgrounds pertaining to public lands. This council meets monthly to address issues. The council has memorandums of understanding with all of the entities that deal with public lands including the Bureau of Land Management and the forest service.
The public lands council has been the vehicle to decide some future for the San Rafael Swell, to design a picture of what ought to happen on the Swell. Through this council, HR3625 was generated which proposed a National Conservation/Heritage Area which was sponsored by Congressman Chris Cannon and Jim Hansen. The conservation side of the bill dealt with the land management and the heritage side dealt with the human factor. There are those who believe that you can only manage public lands if humans are out of the picture. With the heritage area, the human factor could be educated and informed and people could be directed where the county wants them and stay out of areas where there isn't an infrastructure. This legislation went down in Congress.
In the year 2000, a more politically correct version of the bill was introduced HR3605. It was different from the original legislation as it contained layered management for the conservation area and included wilderness study areas that were semi-primitive and primitive areas which included nonmotorized travel. One million acres were outlined for protection including land which extended into Wayne County and included Factory Butte.
This bill was pulled when it became something the county couldn't live with. Among other things, Congress wanted all roads in the bill area to be closed through the planning process. The conservation/heritage area was the best piece of public lands management legislation that had been proposed in a long time. Many states at this time passed legislation that mirrored the Emery County legislation. "After six years of significant work, where do we go from here, Congress would be a more difficult sell now than they were last time. The idea to perhaps propose a national monument was proposed. My name is on a lawsuit against President Clinton for the last monument created, but we didn't want all the work that's been done to go to waste so we decided to take a look at it, like Yogi Berra said, 'If you don't know where you're going you might end up somewhere else.'
"I took a friend from Portland out to the Swell recently and we saw cars from six different states out there. The Swell is listed as a guided destination on websites all over Europe. We used to say the only tourism we had was when someone was arrested on I-70. Because of I-70 we have a people problem. They come to the area and sometimes get themselves into trouble. The question is can we do something. Can we go to the President with a grass roots effort that takes the national conservation area/heritage area legislation and brings it together to accomplish a purpose by the use of the Antiquities Act," said Commissioner Johnson.
In January the idea of exploring the idea of a monument was brought to the forefront when Governor Leavitt announced the beginning of a process. "This was not a done deal and President Bush has assured us that he will not make any decision against the citizen's wishes. Are options are limited and time is working against us. At one time the environmental groups were proposing 1.7 million acres of wilderness and they are now up to 9.1 million acres. The options look bleak and this might be the last chance to choose. A monument might not be a perfect solution. What will happen if we do nothing. Could we end up with something worse? It's a real possibility. We came close in 1996 to having a monument, the Swell was on the short list and was being considered by Al Gore. They designated 14 more monuments in addition to the Grand Staircase National Monument," said Commissioner Johnson.
Emery County is looking at another way of doing things before it is too late; while there is a friendly administration that is in favor of multiple use. Commissioner Johnson said, "We can relax and wait and assume we're safe, or we can actively pursue Emery County's interest while we have a friend in Washington; we should seize that opportunity now or we might not get this opportunity again where local interests can be profited and provide economic opportunity. We can create a visitor friendly multiple use monument that is created differently than the Washington people with their agenda to protect scientific resources and ignore the human resources; who want to keep people out and created a defacto wilderness monument. We don't want to see those mistakes repeated.
"We want to explore the historic resources and welcome visitors and tell the story with human dimensions. We want to connect to history and acknowledge our interaction with the Swell and encourage heritage businesses, bed and breakfasts, rock art tours, ATV tours and a wide variety of uses. The Swell provides outdoor experiences that don't conflict with each other. We want to curtail abuse while using the land. By presidential proclamation we can accomplish what we tried to do with Congress with the national conservation/heritage area legislation. One was by Congress the other process is through the president.
"We want to protect the interests, water and grazing and all preexisting rights, utilities, roads and local participation in the ongoing management of the monument. We want no federal reserve water right. The environmentalists almost certainly establish federal reserve water rights. The water language will protect water rights into the future. With claims and permits in place existing rights continue and the language recognizes the existence of rights. We intend to protect grazing rights. Under our concept grazing will be governed by laws and managed as if a monument didn't exist. This language will be clear in a proclamation. The historic resource is part of the history, part of what we are showcasing and this will give grazing an added measure of protection.
"The roads and access, next to water access, affects all other uses and the two keys are the RS2477 road right of ways and the BLM route designation will not be affected by monument designation. Currently Emery County and the state are working to establish these rights once and for all. The BLM route designation will identify roads and Emery County is fighting to keep routes open. We expect to come out fairly well and will probably have good and bad news once the routes are established. The BLM route designation would endure as part of the monument plan.
"We support ATV use and not abuse. People need to act now, the local voice needs to be heard and involved The advisory council will have direct input now and over time. The local voice is significant. The monument advisory council assures that the local voice will not be silenced. The hunting and wildlife will still be managed by the state and monument designation would not be a factor. We have six local priorities and would insist that these issues are addressed to our satisfaction or there will be no monument. We don't intend to lock out, but to lock in our priorities. To start with a clean slate and design a plan on how these things will be managed into the future. We will define size and protect against federal water right. If we let others define our future, there will be federal water rights, roads will be closed, people will be kept out and there will be no public input.
"A former Garfield County commissioner said perhaps if they would have acted a few years ago when they had the opportunity then it would have been much smaller and easier to live with than what they got.
"There are risks involved with or without a monument, our purpose is to protect our interests and concerns. The president will not do anything against Emery County's wishes. The political power to achieve our objectives is here now, a power shift might bring into power those who are not our friends. We can choose a locally designed monument or be forced to see a monument or something worse someday. If we choose no things will change....no action is a greater risk. You can control your own destiny or someone else will. Decisions will be made concerning our area, we can choose who will decide. This is our last chance to choose, may we choose wisely," said Commissioner Johnson.
Emery County has prepared an information video concerning the monument idea. This video was shown as part of the presentation. Afterwhich a question and answer session was held.