Will access to public lands continue in the future?
Ray Petersen speaks at the meeting on travel and transportation. It was well attended by both those in and out of the area.
At the appointed start time for the travel/transportation public hearing for the Emery County Public Lands Council to begin, the line of people waiting to sign in still wound around the lobby. The room was nearly full of concerned residents waiting for their turn to comment on the question from the public lands council. The council is considering sponsoring a lands bill for the San Rafael Swell area similar to the Washington County Land Bill which was recently enacted.
Ray Petersen, director of the public lands council opened the meeting and welcomed everyone to the meeting. He recognized the active volunteers who have been involved from the beginning who were in attendance: Scott Wheeler, Guy Webster, Bruce Wilson, Mark H Williams and LaMar Guymon.
"Three weeks ago we held a public hearing for the travel/transportation portion. Attendance was very sparse, so we are doing it again. We appreciate your attendance," said Petersen.
"I will begin by giving some background on this issue. In 1964, the Wilderness Act was passed which designated several agencies with the directive to inventory public lands. It did not involve Bureau of Land Management lands. In 1976, the Federal Lands Policy Management Act directed the secretary of the interior to inventory BLM lands.
"In 1983, some lands were designated as wilderness study areas. In Emery County, those WSAs are Sid's Mountain, Mexican Mountain, San Rafael Reef, Crack Canyon, Muddy Creek, Devil's Canyon, Desolation Canyon, Turtle Canyon and Horseshoe Canyon. All of these WSAs are Congressionally designated.
"Following this, the new Secretary of the Interior, Bruce Babbitt, contended that all lands that qualified as wilderness were not listed in the inventory. He ordered a reinventory, and this reinventory found an additional 450,000 acres in Emery County, but these were never designated as WSAs," Petersen stated.
Petersen added that no wilderness is yet designated in Emery County and there is no timetable for the WSAs to be designated. Some practical questions used to determine suitability include: Is the area 5,000 acres in size or larger? Or a roadless island? Does the area generally appear to be natural and is human presence relatively unnoticeable? Does the area offer the opportunity for primitive and unconfined recreational activities like camping, hiking, and skiing? Does it provide opportunities for solitude? Does the area contain features of ecological, geological, scientific, or historical significance?
"The reinventory areas have been noted as having one or more of wilderness characteristics," said Petersen. "WSAs are managed to maintain a nonimpairment status. The Red Rock Wilderness Act was introduced by Wayne Owens in the 1980s and has been reintroduced every year since. In those years, the acreage has been expanded to encompass 1.4 million acres, that is 41 percent, of Emery County in addition to what is already designated as WSA," said Petersen. "Our idea is to propose legislation similar to Washington County to finalize the San Rafael Swell. The inventory process is still open, and legislation by Congress would put an end to that process. In Washington County, their legislation has put an end to the reinventory process.
"We, as the public lands council for Emery County, would like to know if the public feels it would be beneficial for Emery County to introduce some legislation to finalize this process and designate the existing WSAs as wilderness and maintain all the use we have in the Swell right now," Petersen concluded.
Guy Webster said, "WSAs do not allow for exceptions. If we go forward with this legislation, we can put in exceptions in wilderness."
Clark Powell, "All the state and national parks in this state take our natural resources. When those are gone, our freedom is gone."
Marlin Sharp, "I represent a group of users that support multiple use of public lands. We need those lands open and want access to those lands."
Cindy Lopez, "We need to ask our commissioners if this county is following the sustainable development policy. If they are, that is part of Agenda 21 from the United Nations. We need to follow our Constitution. We are Americans not global residents."
Rick Whiteside, "I am an off road advocate. I see benefits to bringing the issue to closure. But, I do not see the BLM backing off."
William Sharp, "I belong to a group called the Americans for Freedom on Public Lands. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires equal access for all. Wilderness designation adds to age discrimination. The ADA states all places or recreation must have equal access for all."
Brenda Kalatzes, "My family has owned property near Woodside for more than 65 years. It is on the edge of a WSA. We are now in a contest with the BLM and the Department of the Interior. They are becoming fraudulent over this contest."
Lorin Israelsen, "You are not going to buy those people off with wilderness. They will want to grab more."
Barry Bradley, "I find it very interesting that Washington County got theirs implemented. We need to watch now and see if they keep control. I don't see what it would hurt to do the same in Emery County."
Petersen added, "In all other areas where things like this have happened, Congress has had a tendency not to revisit the issue again."
Bonnie Keele, "In Washington County they are touting their bill. They thought they could live with the results. When the bill got to Washington D.C., and after everyone got through with add ons, the bill was unrecognizable. If you do this, it does not keep the BLM from managing it."
Myrna Anderson, "If this land is designated as Wilderness, they shouldn't be allowed to walk on it either."
Dale Bartholomew, "I have been working with Washington County through their process and I noticed that in Congress, they put things in at the last minute. Be wary of this."
Petersen added, "Emery County has tried legislation in the past pertaining to the Swell, once in 1998 and again in 2000. At the last minute amendments were made to it which the commissioners were not happy with and they pulled it."
Danny Curtis, "We have enough wilderness in the state and national parks. Don't take any more land away from the people. Wilderness is discriminatory in access for everyone."
John Anderson, "I have been to the last six public land council meetings. I don't like wilderness. If it is designated wilderness, there will be no more mineral exploration. I want to voice my opinion. I am against wilderness and wilderness study areas."
Jim Felton, "The Department of the Interior has control of 50 million acres and 20 percent of that is wilderness. Minerals are the second highest source of income for the government."
Petersen informed the group that Emery County has a current land use plan. In this plan it states there is a place for wilderness. Emery County is currently rewriting the general plan.
"Another thing to consider is the presidential designation. Remember the Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument. We felt the San Rafael was in that mix for consideration and the president chose Grand Staircase/Escalante," said Petersen.
Alan Peterson, "I have been involved with the land use battle for 25 years. I think most of the people in this room are anti-wilderness. The good news is that 64 percent of Utah is public land. And the bad news is that 64 percent of Utah is public land."
Dixie Swasey, "No one has mentioned the historic value of the Swell. I married into a family with a lot of history in the Swell. I don't know the answer, but I do know I want my children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren to be able to visit the historic places of their ancestors."
Chad Booth, "Access needs to be addressed. Access affects everything."
Winston Palmer, "It seems everyone is in favor of accessible lands. The Constitution says the president cannot designate public lands."
Priscilla Burton, "My observations of the Swell are that there are plenty of roads and ATV trails out there. I want my children to be able to go somewhere for solitude. It would be wise to set aside some wilderness."
Guy Webster, "I have been asked to speak for Green River. We want several portions left as is. Personally, I want my grandchildren to have someplace to go."
Chris Brimhall, "In 2008, there were 23 people at the ATV rally. In February of 2009, more than 800 people were in attendance. Last Saturday, the rally at the Capitol was held and nearly 3,500 people show up for the rally. This movement is growing in support."
Paul Anderson, "I am on the board of USA-All and their statement says they can operate under a no net loss approach. They want RS-2477 settled. Some wilderness may be acceptable under certain circumstances."
Marilyn Hadden, "I am very emotional about this issue and we attended the rally last Saturday. We belong to the ATV clubs and USA-All, and in my opinion, they are the best thing that has happened. I am a citizen of Utah and the United States."
Delbert McFarland, "My concern is the need for education out in the communities. Some news media is not reporting correct facts."
Petersen added, "I have received many phone calls and emails on this issue. Much of the concern is due to misinformation. People need to get involved in and attend the public hearings and meetings. The lands council decided this information and proposal needs to be out there. We need to know how the people feel. If we have any support, we will pursue this project. We are finding that most people want something done. The council will not proceed with anything the public does not support."
LaMar Guymon, "In defense of the public lands council and the county commissioners, they are working hard. I have been watching this issue for 30 plus years. Those involved take input from the public and get input from those who show up at the hearings. If people don't show up and let Ray and the council know what you want, and if they do something you don't want, and you didn't comment, it's your own fault."
To contact Petersen, make a comment, or ask a question, call 435-381-5552 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.