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Letter to the Editor: Emery County Public Lands Bill

Dear Editor,
I read with interest the letter posted in the Aug. 14 issue of the Progress. Wade makes some good points and raises questions that many residents of Emery County share. I appreciate his perspective and value his input greatly. The general tone of the letter is consistent with the balancing act the Public Lands Council and County Commissioners have been faced with for over a decade now as these public servants have pursued the strategy of the Emery County Public Lands Management Act (HR 5727). Basically, Wade asks: “are we getting as much as we are giving?”
He states that “Granted, under the current administration it does not appear that the Antiquities Act will be abused as it has been under the Clinton and Obama administrations; however, [action by] future administrations is unknown.” I agree. A major reason the County Commissioners decided to pursue legislation in 2009 was because at that time they were convinced that a future administration was likely to use the Antiquities Act to designate a National Monument in Emery County. Not long after that, Congressman Rob Bishop discovered a document that listed areas in San Juan County and Emery County as numbers one and two for designation. I believe that precisely because Emery County was actively, seriously working on conservation legislation we avoided a designation and San Juan got the Bear’s Ears National Monument. In that vein, this strategy has already proven successful.
The increased amount of designated wilderness and wild and scenic river designation is a concern for many people. When the numbers get thrown out there it sounds like a lot, especially when the feeling of many is that the current Wilderness Study Areas are too large. Again, the PLC and Commission made an assumption in 2009 that the WSAs were not going to go away. Some that attended the public meetings held by the PLC that challenged that assumption and even stated that it wouldn’t be long before the WSAs would start to be eliminated. Ten years later nothing has changed. There has been a bill introduced in Washington which would eliminate the WSAs in that state, it has failed to attract a single co-sponsor.
There are approximately 460,000 acres in the existing WSAs. Our proposed legislation actually eliminates about 14,000 of those acres, but increases acreage in other areas for a net gain of about 50,000 acres, less than a 10 percent increase. A couple of areas generate most of the increased acreage; some large areas in the Desolation Canyon and in the Muddy Creek/Red’s Canyon area. The piece in Desolation Canyon was not designated as WSA, but is surrounded entirely by the designation. It made sense to the PLC to include it as wilderness. In Muddy Creek and Red’s Canyon area, extremely large areas were designated “Natural Areas” in the 2008 RMP and are managed “to retain wilderness characteristics.” The PLC did extensive work to determine any additions to the additional 10 percent added to wilderness would not impact current resource use.
Wild and Scenic River designation along portions of the Green River will not modify current management of the river corridor in any way. The Three Rivers Withdrawl, Desolation/ Gray Canyon Management Plan, Flaming Gorge Water Management Plan, Colorado River Compact (of 1922) currently dictates how the river corridor is managed. There are so many layers of management along this river that Wild and Scenic designation is in name only. What it will accomplish however, is enhance the marketability of the Desolation Canyon river trip. The proposed designation is also consistent with the recommended designation in the BLM Resource Management Plan of 2008.
Motorized routes which are open according to the 2008 RMP will be open following the passage of the bill. They are included on the map referenced in the bill. These routes will be subject to a current settlement agreement levied by a federal Judge (Kimball) in Salt Lake City. The Price Field Office and five other BLM offices in the state have been charged to re-evaluate travel management plans with particular attention to impacts to cultural resources.
As to retaining the routes following an act of nature, trail maintenance can take place and even some re-routing will be possible within the designated corridor width (minimum of 80 ft).
Emery County agrees that it makes sense to retain the advisory council charged with creating a management plan and not terminate it a year after the plan is complete. New language reflects that.
The management plan for the National Recreation Area will be key to exactly how resources are managed. Emery County will have major influence in the makeup of the council that writes that plan, including one member representing motorized recreation.
This bill will indeed have limitations and will not be perfect. It is not a silver bullet that remedies every issue of public land and resource management. The Commissioners are proceeding with eyes wide open. What it does offer, is an element of control by Emery County in how the land and resources are managed. In the original scoping meetings the PLC held in 2009 it was stated in each meeting, “doing nothing is an option.” Then, and now, exercising that option is not in the best interest of Emery County.
Ray Petersen
Public Lands Director

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