Commission's decision protects county's rights on federal public lands
The commission's recent acceptance of a new master plan for public lands in the county was an important step in maintaining Carbon's current rights on the lands.
The public hearing conducted by the county commission drew few negative comments, although representatives from the United States Bureau of Land Management were not in attendance at the meeting.
"The genesis of the change came from a recent lawsuit that Uintah County was involved in," stated Dave Levanger last week. "Actually, the whole thing started out as to how many horses and wild burros the federal government could run on property there and ended up being a landmark decision in favor of land use planning by counties."
Uintah County vs. Norton (Gale Norton, U.S. Secretary of the Interior) was filed in 2000 and a decision was handed down in 2001. In the suit, Uintah officials challenged the BLM's intent to release animals on the Bonanza range, claiming the action would violate the Book Cliffs resource management plan adopted in 1985 by the county.
The Ute Indian tribe also became involved in the Uintah County's lawsuit, maintaining that the BLM failed consult with members and failed to follow the plan.
The courts ruled that the BLM neglected to consult with the Ute tribe as well as local government entities and failed to conform with land planning in the area.
The decision confirmed that the BLM "has no discretion to operate outside of the directives" outlined in land plans established by local governments.
The Federal Land Policy and Management Act states that federal land managers "shall be consistent with state and local plans to the maximum extent."
But county planning must be specific and local governments have responsibility to make the policies clear. The lawsuit ruling prompted the revision of Carbon County's master plan.
"Originally, the plan was developed by a lands council in the 1990s," said Levanger. "But as the commissioners looked at it, they decided that another look should be given to the plan we had. The responsibility to take care of this was given to planning and zoning. So we set up an ad hoc committee to further develop and fine tune the plan to meet today's challenges."
Several different matters have been turned over to the county's planning and zoning department, pointed out Levanger. Eventually, the department will form committees to review the items.
One concern area officials have is the BLM and federal agencies frequently appear to be more influenced by outside forces than by local ones.
Proper land planning is one way local citizens and governments can be effective in keeping an area's viewpoint at the forefront.
Carbon's revised master plan allows local officials to be what Uintah County's attorney in the civil case, George Young, called a "joint lead agency."
Being a joint lead agency means Carbon County can at the forefront when federal agencies start the process of studying changes or considering projects on public lands located within the county.
"This whole issue of land planning by local agencies versus the federal government has been kind of a step child of the old sage brush rebellion," stated Levanger. "Now it's a county movement."