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Letter to the editor: Response to Public Lands Bill concerns

Dear Editor,
In response to the letter from Doris Quinn from Castle Dale, printed in the Aug. 7 edition of the Progress, I offer the following response.
Like Mrs. Quinn, many residents of Emery County have followed the progress of the Emery County Public Lands Management Act of 2018 (HR 5727) with concern. Probably no one is more concerned with this piece of legislation than the Emery County Public Lands Council (PLC) and the Emery County Commission. Both the Council and the Commission are heavily invested in the proposed legislation, and several members have sacrificed personal time and resources for a decade or more (council members are volunteers) in an effort to establish regulatory certainty for the multiple natural resources in the County.
The PLC was charged in 2009 by the County Commissioners to explore the possibility of federal legislation that would help curtail the possibility of National Monument designation, or Federal legislation that could designate as much as 1.4 million acres of wilderness in the County, and to make a recommendation to the Commission. The Council created several resource related subcommittees, and held well advertised public meetings to determine the support of Emery County residents and other stakeholders. Two things became clear from those meetings: first, there was a reluctant affirmation for the use of legislation (including wilderness designation) to fend off potential Monument Designation by a sitting president, and second, that all stakeholder groups wanted to be able to continue the current resource use following passage of a bill. Specific to two of Mrs Quinn’s concerns, the statement provided by the motorized recreation community was “no net loss of roads or motorized trails.”
Mrs. Quinn states that local organizations have voiced opposition to cherry-stemming strategy, meant to protect motorized routes because the routes will be susceptible to a “settlement agreement.” The agreement to which she refers is an agreement decreed by a federal judge, as a result of a lawsuit filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance against the Department of the Interior. The judge decreed that six travel management plans, in six BLM Field Offices, needed to re-evaluate their 2008 travel plans with particular attention to cultural resources. Specific time limits were placed on completion of these plans. Ironically, a national OHV advocacy group participated in, and was instrumental in bringing about the settlement. In crafting the current legislation, Emery County has found that Congress will not vacate the decision of a federal judge. The re-evaluation of the travel plans will take place whether our legislation passes or not. However, the County is confident in minimal change to the Price Field Office plan due to the diligence taken in two previous evaluations in 2003 and 2008. Even so, Emery County’s legislative package will include all roads and trails that are currently open: no net loss.
In regard to “OHV benefits that have been left out of the current bill,” in the initial effort to craft legislation, there were many ideas explored, discussed or otherwise entertained. Many of those ideas are not included in the current proposal for various reasons. One idea which was touted was a West Side Trail System. It was determined quite early on that the logical location of such a route was not within any of the proposed designation areas, and probably more important, the process to create said trail already existed within current BLM protocol. There was no need for it to be a congressional act.
Similarly, promotional activity specific to certain routes for day loops and longer rides didn’t require an act of congress, but could be accomplished independent of legislation. Creation of “recreation zones” was not embraced by the cities. Emery town proposed a location outside the city limits to the west and an area outside Clawson which has historically been used for motorized recreation are in the proposed legislation.
Mrs. Quinn’s initial concern frankly puzzles me. “Some wilderness groups are not on board with this bill.” A common refrain that I’ve heard over and over goes something like “If (a certain environmental organization) is against what we’re doing, we must be on the right track.” I need to state that Congressman Curtis and Senator Hatch (and Emery County) have solid support from national conservation organizations who wield major influence in Washington. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s most current newsletter indeed excoriates Emery County’s proposal. As Mrs. Quinn says, SUWA “wants all…routes and trails removed from the map.” Well, that’s not news to us. That is precisely a major reason the County decided to undertake legislative redress.
The PLC and County Commissioners remain committed to the original intent determined by stakeholders a decade ago: protect and retain current all resource use.
Ray Petersen,
Emery County Public Lands Administrator

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