Emery continues to work on 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 recently prior to the monthly meeting. The Wilderness Society had asked to make a presentation.
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 said he has spent a lot of time exploring Emery County over the years and is familiar with the area including Desolation Canyon and the side canyons there.
"The Wilderness Society wants to work with the county to see what's possible," he told the council. "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?"
Barber believes the SITLA 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. He said they should be included in any wilderness designation and exchanged out. There are also 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.
Brooke Williams from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance 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. The goal, although difficult, would be to reach a consensus. 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.
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.
Randy 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. 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 SUWA's, but added that that support may not be there either, depending on the bill.
Payne asked Williams if SUWA's 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.
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. He said that isn't the case. He 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. He added that some family members, (SUWA) seem to be estranged but that discussions need to be held and decisions should be made that are for the good of the entire family.
Barber said he sees the situation as an adaptive process and all players need to be involved. In the end, the question is what can Emery County live with is important. 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, much progress was made to settle 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 pointed out that everyone needs to bring something to the table.
"The locals come to the table with a genuine interest in making something work," said Johnson. "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."
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,' he stated. "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."
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," he said.
Scott Wheeler of the council said the group has been working hard and getting things done.
"Tell us something," he said. "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 because there is a statement that says they will kill the Emery County bill if they don't like it."
Williams from SUWA answered that 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, he said.
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," he said." 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."
Kofford said the lands council was put into place to represent all interests. SUWA was at the table and blew up. He said they told the county to go ahead and put together 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," he stated. "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 inroads in Washington. If you get too far out there. We'll pull this bill. We are going forward with this bill."
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," said Horrocks. "Everyone will get something, but no one (group) will get everything. I read SUWA's 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 want they will kill the bill.
Barber said the Wilderness Society won't operate that way. If they can't support the bill, they will walk away.
Williams from SUWA said the organization 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 then the more people will 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.