Emery County continues to work on a land use bill.
For nearly a year now the Emery County Public Lands Council and its subcommittees have continued to look at a land use bill for Emery County. A work meeting was held prior to the monthly meeting where the Wilderness Society had asked to make a presentation.
Bruce Wilson, chairman went over the maps covering the recent field trip to the Goblin Valley area. The uses in this area were discussed. There are dispersed camping spots and cattle grazing with some mineral development potential. The area is a popular spot for hikers. In prior years the area around Little Wild Horse mesa is hiked during the spring and fall with the summer months being too hot. But, recently there are people hiking through the hot summer months with as many as 400-500 people a weekend signing the book at the trail head at Little Wild Horse. The visitors have been from all around the world to the popular hiking spot.
Val Payne is a contract worker for Emery County on public lands issues. He added the area around Goblin Valley hadn't been included in the abandoned mine reclamation plan for the Swell. The grazing in that area is managed from the BLM office in Hanksville.
Scott Wheeler stressed the need for the maps to show all the existing routes, roads and trail systems in the area. There is an old road in the area that could be a link from I-70 to the Temple Mountain area. Wheeler said it would be good to get that connection reopened. This Goblin Valley area is being discussed as a possible National Conservation Area.
Randy Johnson said the NCA process can take up to three years and during that time all discussion on routes should take place. Wheeler emphasized the need for trailheads and staging areas in that vicinity. Goblin Valley can be used as a starting point for other access to other areas such as a NCA or wilderness area.
Brad Barber is a planning consultant for the Wilderness Society. He was asked to attend the meeting by Julie Mack, the chapter president in Utah. The Wilderness Society is a nationwide organization dedicated to the preservation of wilderness areas. Barber explained a little of his history in working in Emery County while he was the state planning coordinator regarding public lands issues. During the early 1990s he worked obtaining the original grants which set-up the public lands council. During the times Emery County pursued the National Heritage Area and the San Rafael National Monument, Barber was involved at the state level. He has spent a lot of time exploring Emery County and is familiar with the country including Desolation Canyon and the side canyons there. He said he believes the field trips have been helpful and Julie has been able to attend about half of the field trips.
"The Wilderness Society wants to work with the county to see what's possible. We are going to push and we want as much wilderness as possible, but no wilderness proposal has been done by the Wilderness Society. The boundary issues are critical. What makes sense? What's manageable. I have worked on land exchanges with SITLA during my time with the state," said Barber.
Barber believes the school trustlands should be traded out of any wilderness designation to eliminate islands within wilderness. Sometimes boundaries go around school trustlands and that's not the best option. They should be included in any wilderness designation and exchanged out. There are some key roads the Wilderness Society will want to look at. Barber said a National Conservation Area is a good management tool. He worked on the Washington county land bill and there are a couple of NCAs in their land use bill that make sense. "You must be sure a NCA makes sense," said Barber. "The Wilderness Society wants to be engaged and be involved."
Barber said the field trips have been the source of good comments and discussion and the Wilderness Society may want to take some field trips of their own to look at boundaries.
There was some discussion on expanding the current National Park of Capitol Reef where a small portion of the park extends into Emery County. Johnson suggested the county be careful with this. A National Park can impact the Payment in Lieu of Taxes money the county receives. Wayne County receives a relatively small PILT payment because of the National Park in their c ounty. A National Park is a draw, but there are downsides as well.
Wheeler said he doesn't see that area as being much of a draw.
Johnson said the National Parks have more than they can handle now with budget cuts. If an expansion of the National Park is proposed then the National Park itself would have to participate.
Wheeler wondered if it was necessary to expand the National Park, "Are we putting a title on something that doesn't need it," he questioned.
Brooke Williams from SUWA asked Barber what his opinion was based on his experience as to what Emery County should do. Barber said everyone should work together and share ideas. They should discuss the maps. That is the right approach. The goal would be to reach a consensus and it would be difficult but a worthy goal. Barber said the different attempts at legislation in the county could be discussed. "Maybe we can't reach consensus, but it's a worthy goal. I can advise the Wilderness Society on how to achieve it," said Barber.
Payne said he had high hopes for the process the county was going through in developing a land use bill. He thought everyone expressed willingness to be tolerant, respectful and willing to listen. In a recent book he read it talked about collaboration. In reaching agreements you must be willing to talk to those who you may not like or agree with, but you would have a willingness to listen. "Everyone came into the process with preconceived ideas. We must be willing to listen to others," said Payne.
Barber said he has worked with people who have collaborative positive results and he has learned from them. He said he understands how to bring good information to the table to help make decisions and reach consensus.
Council member Jon Gilbert asked where the Wilderness Society gets their funds to operate. Barber said it is a national organization. Julie Mack works out of her home. She asked Barber to assist and advise her. She would know better where the grants and donations come from. The Wilderness Society is active on issues everywhere and is the oldest wilderness organization in the nation.
Johnson said the Wilderness Society was active in the Washington County land use bill and Bill Meadows out of the Denver office was involved. A need was identified in Utah and the Utah office was opened with Julie Mack as director. The Wilderness Society wants to get something done and values local heritage. Philosophically their goal is wilderness and to protect wilderness. Barber said they would like to see some wilderness designated and to be done with the contention. He looks forward to working with the Wilderness Society as they hope to move the process along.
An audience member asked Barber what type of bill they would support and if they would support a lands bill that is different than the America's Red Rock Wilderness Act that the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has been introducing in Congress each year. Barber said the Wilderness Society may be able to support a lands bill different than SUWAs and then again they may not be able to support it.
Payne asked Williams if SUWAs all or nothing attitude in regards to wilderness in Emery County still holds true. Williams said he feels they are far apart in directions to go with the lands use bill, but he doesn't feel SUWA has an all or nothing attitude and they need to figure out what they can live with.
Payne said in recent weeks the mischaracterization of Emery County on the SUWA website and other media outlets has been disturbing. The county has been portrayed as not being approachable or willing to have discussion with environmental groups which isn't the case. Payne said when critical decisions need to be made then everyone needs to work together like a family. Payne likened the county to the mom and dad and they will gather input and will try to make a decision based on the input from all family members. But, some family members, (SUWA) seem to be estranged. Discussion needs to be held and decisions made based on what's good for the entire family.
Barber said he sees the situation as an adaptive process and all players need to be involved and in the end, the question is what can Emery County live with. He said groups like Wilderness Society and SUWA bring a national point of view into Emery County's picture. Barber said he hopes something can come together and be something good the citizens can live with and also pass Congress.
Mistie Christiansen, land council member said her grandfather came to Emery County in the 1880s and SUWA has been around since 1983. In that 100 year period without SUWA, then much progress was made to settle Emery County and to go about things in the right way to begin with for the people of Emery County. Permittees have been a big part of taking care of Emery County, farmers, ranchers, grazers, ATV enthusiasts, and sportsmen as well as others have worked to be a part of Emery County and to take care of it.
Johnson said to further that statement about our heritage, that brings up the question of what are you (environmental groups), bringing to the table?
"The locals come to the table with a genuine interest in making something work. If you come to the table you must be willing to add something. Some groups want to sit back and wait. If you want to be a player you need to get up to the table and help make it work," said Johnson.
Ed Geary, land council member addressed Barber and said the Wilderness Society approached the lands council and said they want to talk, but Geary said he expected them to say more. "Wanting to talk is not new, we expected you to say more. I can also see this as a way of dragging it out. We've been working on maps. We've been on field trips. Everything the lands council has done has been transparent. SUWA meets behind closed doors," said Geary.
Mark H. Williams, lands council member said the map is almost complete for the land use bill. SUWA is the one that pulled out and chose not to participate in meetings. What do you want? We are about to the end of the process.
Wheeler said the council has been working hard and getting things done. What is SUWA willing to pull back on? "Tell us something, this has been very frustrating, we've had discussion, we've had field trips. We've spent the time. Decisions should be made on the land by those who utilize it. I've been disappointed with what SUWA has put on their website. On the SUWA website statement it said they would kill the Emery County bill if they didn't like it."
Williams from SUWA answered he thought the county was in an information gathering stage and the process wasn't well defined. But, Emery County is going through with a proposal. What are the steps of the process? We've felt left out. Those were Williams' feelings.
Commissioner Gary Kofford responded the process was started earnestly a year ago to work out an Emery County land use bill. Everything in that year's time has been a collaborative effort. The lands council voted to have a bill ready by October 2010 and that date is fast approaching. "It became apparent early on in the meetings and field trips that the environmental groups were aloft. They didn't want to reveal their plans and indicate where they wanted to go. In a couple of meetings, we tried to get SUWA to make a statement to look at the issues and address valid concerns. SUWA even indicated they would settle the lawsuit with the BLMs resource management plans. SUWA wanted to take part. But, I don't see that happening now," said Kofford.
Kofford said the lands council was put into place to represent all interests. SUWA was at the table and blew up, they told the county to go ahead and make their bill and SUWA would agree with it or they would fight it. The process with the Emery County land use bill is moving forward. You are welcome to come back to the table, if you have something to say. We're moving on a schedule to have a bill ready. You, (SUWA) aren't going to make any enroads in Washington.
"If you get too far out there. We'll pull this bill. What this group has made and went through we are going forward with it," stated Kofford.
Commissioner Jeff Horrocks said it is the hope of the county to have the land use bill bring to a conclusion land use issues in the county. The council is preparing the bill to move forward. "We hope to have the Wilderness Society on board, everyone will get something, but no one (group) will get everything. I read SUWAs letter on their website. It made it sound like Emery County was the bad guys. The Wilderness Society has come forward to participate. SUWA has been watching and their intent is if they don't get everything they will kill the bill.
Barber from the Wilderness Society said they won't operate in that way. If they can't support the bill, they will walk away.
Williams from SUWA said SUWA is heavily invested in this process. "If we really have something to contribute, now's the time," said Williams.
Kofford said having the environmental groups involved in the process is a plus. Environmental groups represent big users. The more the areas in Emery County are discussed and brought out into the open, then the more people want to come and a lot of those visitors are from the environmental community. "People are coming here year round. You helped to create this issue. Identify some way to help. You helped bring visitors here and you can't put the lid back on the box," said Kofford.
Wilson closed the meeting thanking everyone for their comments and he hopes something useful can come out of the exchange of comments.