Mark H. Williams of the Southeastern Utah Off-Highway Vehicle Club along with the Castle Country Rural Alliance held a strategic planning meeting for their concerns for the San Rafael Swell on Dec. 7 at 10 a.m. at the Museum of the San Rafael. The meeting was a public discussion forum for input from the residents of Emery County and other concerned citizens about the future of the San Rafael Swell. Since the defeat of the monument issue in the November election, the users of the Swell want to seek public input and form some proposal for the future of the Swell. Approximately 30 citizens were in attendance as Williams welcomed everyone to the meeting and urged healing between the two sides of the monument issue that divided the county during the last election. "We're just trying to find out what the public wants on this issue and give them a chance to speak," said Williams. He stated we need to move forward and stressed this is not a proposal, but citizen concerns for the San Rafael Swell.
Williams introduced the guests present at the meeting, Rex Sacco, Carbon County GSI specialist, Robert Uzelac, Bureau of Land Management RAC over recreation, Professor Jeff Durrant, Brigham Young University professor of geography, Lisette Thurgood, meeting recorder, and Bonnie Keele, who would compile the list of concerns from the public comments. Professor Durrant, who acted as the moderator for the discussion, was first on the program. He expressed his love of the Swell and his desire to see its future protected and the voices of the citizens of Emery County to be heard. "As much as we'd like, we cannot go back 15-20 years to relative obscurity, we must look to the future and do what we can to protect the Swell," said Durrant. He then presented a slide show about the Swell and its history. He explained how the BLM had come to manage the land and that some of the lands in the Swell are managed by SITLA. The portion of public lands has become smaller and smaller over the years since the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument was established. Durrant explained how the BLM had once held over 1,800 million acres of public lands, but over time with gifts of parcels to the National Park Service, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the United States Forest Service, their holdings are a small percentage of what they once were. The need to protect this public land is vital for the people of not only Emery County and the state of Utah, but the whole country.
There are now 15 National Conservation Areas, with all but five being established in the 1990s. Since the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in 1996, 14 national monuments have been established in 2000 and 2001. Public land is becoming a scarce commodity. He explained that at the present time, six portions of the Swell are under wilderness study and the Heritage Bill is also under consideration at the national level.
Durrant stated he has been in contact with Sally Wisely from the BLM and she is proposing a special focus of the San Rafael Swell in the current resource management planning effort in the Price office. He also explained the focus needs to involve local interests and consider only the land in the Swell and not all the BLM lands in Carbon and Emery counties.
At that time, Durrant expressed his desire to get back to the meeting's objective and let the public have their comment time. Bonnie Keele was to write down all the comments and to compile a list. Williams began the public comment time by reading a letter from Montell Seeley, who could not be at the meeting. This letter stated Seeley's feelings and expressed his wish for multiple use and access to all. This letter stated there are places in the Swell for everyone.
Ramal Jones from Castle Dale was next to speak. He stated his family enjoys the wilderness camping experience of the Swell and would not like to see that change. He stressed the need to keep the roads open and vehicle access to the paleontological sites. He wants to see the resource protected with minimal improvements and developments.
Another Castle Dale resident was next. Reed Martin expressed his desire to see the camping experience for large groups remain as it is. He also expressed the need for vehicle access and no road closures. Martin listed one of the problems with the Swell is access to water, a person can only carry so much and closure of some of the roads limits accessability to some water sources and to the trailheads.
Pete Jones, Castle Dale stated his objection to wilderness and his objections to closing people out of the Swell.
Ferron resident Lee Rasmussen was next. He asked if there was anything that could be done before RS 2477 was settled. He stated his opinion that the energy resources of the county are being depleted and the future is in recreation revenue. ATVs can be a financial boon to this county, so vehicle access is extremely important.
Paul Hill from Price expressed his concerns over the access to the Swell for persons with disabilities and the elderly. They need RV access.
Helper resident Charles Jones said wilderness areas shut people out. While he recognizes the abuse the Swell has had, he felt more patrol and stronger enforcement of the existing laws with heavier penalties would help to protect the land.
Rex Sacco, Price, stressed the need to adhere to and respect RS 2477 and that county sheriffs should do the enforcement not the BLM. Their expertise is management not enforcement. He also stated the taxpayers are the ones footing the bill and they should have a say in the future management of the Swell.
Kathleen Truman, Ferron, expressed her desire to see the historical resources of the Swell protected and preserved. She also indicated there are guides and outfitters who work in the Swell whose rights need to be taken into consideration.
Bonnie Keele from Ferron was the next to comment. She stated we need to take care of RS 2477 first and also to respect the "NO" monument vote. She also stated the need for county officials to stay strong and protect our rights to the land and access to that land.
Robert Uzelac from Salt Lake City said some items to be considered protection of the watershed, endangered species, security, law enforcement, maintenance, impact monitoring, noxious weeds, seasonal closures, property rights, permittee rights, signage and whatever designation that can not be changed in the future. He stated trail systems cannot be changed. There are also search and rescue concerns.
Gordon Pace from Ferron added that with all the people out on the Swell, we need to look at emergency services and access for emergency vehicles. Pace also stated the need to look at wildlife and hunting access.
Mike Dunwoody, Green River resident said economic impact on communities should be considered. He also stated the need for access and fiscal responsibility. The major areas of concern by the group were vehicle access, economic impact, camping, development, garbage, grazing, water rights, user fees, and local law enforcment although not in that order of importance. Once the major issues were listed, the group continued to stress each individuals order of importance and suggest some solutions.
According to Durrant, one of the essential elements is strong and meaningful local involvement in any future process concerning the Swell. The public needs to be well informed and given a chance to voice their concerns and ideas. One suggestion was to form a local advisory committee with delegates from each user group.
More information gathering and fact finding meetings will be held after the holidays.
There will also be meetings in each town around the county to enable all residents a chance to voice their concerns and feelings about the San Rafael.