The San Rafael Swell is in Emery County and officials are trying to keep decisions made about this special area as local as possible.
The Emery County Public Lands Council met in their work meeting to discuss the language they wish to use in the land use bill they are proposing to submit to Congress. Public Lands Director Ray Petersen has been using the Washington County Land Use Bill as a model and using their language with Emery County issues.
Chairman Bruce Wilson said the soonest they can submit something to Congress will be in January. He suggested they take the time available now and make sure they have all the information they need to proceed. He said the grazers need to identify stock ponds and access roads so they are all recorded on maps. Grazers also need to make sure their grazing permits contain the language within the permit needed to keep access to those roads and ponds. It was determined that grazers would band together and meet with the BLM to see what steps need to be taken to ensure the language within the permits guarantees motorized and mechanized access to these ponds for maintenance and repairs as well as the building of any new stock ponds as needed.
Wilson said the same goes for the issues with travel. all roads must be identified. Gary Petty wondered about the RS-2477 roads and if the language for the bill should include the RS-2477 roads. Emery County asserts the RS-2477 roads, these assertions will suffice until the roads are recognized in the legal process.
Vernell Rowley said the road doesn't have to be proven if it was existing before 1978.
Mike McCandless, economic development director said the courts have said that only a court can make the decision whether or not a road is RS-2477. Emery County currently has six RS-2477 roads under litigation.
Randy Johnson, lobbyist for the county suggested as the county goes through the process to determine where wilderness should be established then when you draw the boundaries on the map avoid these areas where there are conflicts. All transportation routes should be maintained in the county. Then, identify areas which can be wilderness and which qualify. Look at the roads and determine if they serve a purpose. Identify those areas which have fewer conflicts.
Petty said he disagrees and stated the Washington County Bill has no designated roads.
Johnson said Washington County has an authorized travel plan.
Wilson said nothing in the bill Emery County is proposing will diminish travel in any way.
Petty said the grazers in Washington County told him that in order to take a truck into their wilderness area, they had to apply for a permit and the BLM never acted on the permit. Now they can't haul water or do repairs.
McCandless said the key is excluding those areas with routes that include RS-2477 roads.
Petty said he wants all access roads and ponds noted on a map.
Johnson said until the bill passes then the map is a draft. After the legislation passes then the map will become a legal document.
Petty said a grazer in Emery lost access to his pond when the access road to it was closed. Those are the situations he wishes to avoid with an accurate map.
Rowley said they also need access to all the historical sites.
Johnson said he agreed and if those areas aren't included in the wilderness they will be just as they are now.
Rowley said some of the historical areas he is referring to that are within the Wilderness Study Areas are closed to the public now. Several roads created during the uranium boom are locked now.
Wilson said they need to identify the Swasey's Leap road and eliminate it from wilderness. The areas can just be avoided and eliminated from any land use bill. A necessary road can also be cherry stemmed within a wilderness area.
Guy Webster said those BLM guys which are denying permits for grazers to access their ponds are at fault. No one individual should have that much authority.
McCandless reminded everyone that administrative access for ponds is handled differently than public access. These routes for cattlemen are only supposed to be used for access to their ponds and repair. They aren't open to everyone.
Sherrel Ward said most grazers were holding off on acting because they didn't know where the proposed wilderness areas were going to be.
McCandless said that's unwise because the America's Red Rock Wilderness Act is also coming down and the grazers need to protect themselves. Some permits have mechanized travel and repair of stock ponds within the permit, but many don't. Petty and Ward both said their permits don't have those provisions listed. Everyone needs to get it included in the individual permit that roads, fences and pond maintenance is guaranteed within the permit.
Wilson said they must get the grazing associations together and sit down and identify ponds in their area that they would like to keep. All of the grazing associations should send someone to participate on the lands council grazing subcommittee.
Petty said he wants to make sure all the RS-2477 roads are included on the map the county prepares. He also said he wants the language in the bill to refer to the maps for clarification of where these ponds, fences and access roads are located.
Wilson said they are finding the maps and data the BLM has been providing them aren't accurate. He encouraged the grazers to GPS their fence lines and stock watering ponds and get them on the map.
Rowley said there are 78 historical sites identified and ready for the map. Some are on forest service, BLM, private, and WSAs. These sites are historical and established more than 50 years ago and they want these roads to these sites recognized.
A representative from SUWA was in attendance at the meeting. He said as the county is working through their first issues when they get ready to discuss their bill, then SUWA will push towards protection of the land. Identification of the historical sites and grazing needs will all be part of the discussion at that time.
Johnson said as the process continues the maps will be invaluable in the discussion. "When you have the data in front of you it's easier to reach consensus."
McCandless said the state is involved with historical sites as well and evaluates them to see if they are significant enough to be recognized.
Johnson said it would be good to get Wilson Martin from the state involved and the public involved because Emery County has historical and cultural sites every bit as important to protect as the scenery. "We have so much history, pioneer, outlaw, Native American, mining and much more. We should never have a bill that doesn't address those things. They should be a big part of what we're doing here. We need to take the data and information and make it as complete as possible and find common areas and negotiate to make it work. We can look at alternative forms of management, such as a Heritage Area that allows grazing. There's a lot to do to make it work. The historical sites need to be protected and enhanced to allow the public a better experience." said Johnson.
It was determined to make the historical and cultural sites its own subcategory in the bill. Johnson said to be careful with the word cultural because that language could carry baggage the county may not want to tackle.
Language for the bill was discussed and Johnson said it took 20 years to get a bill passed and there is some pretty good language in the Washington County bill. There are people who would prefer to have such language taken out. Some people would like to change the language. We worked for a long time. Don't alter the language too much then it opens it up for everyone to pick and choose language and the end result is usually a far cry from the original bill.
The San Rafael area is currently home to approximately 180 grazing allotments.
As the public lands council works through the creation of a bill there will be public input along the way and after they have a draft document for the public to review. Public meetings to discuss the bill will be held when the draft is ready.