Governor announces state wilderness plan
Flanked by state and federal officials on Monday, Gov. Olene Walker announced a plan Monday designed to resolve decades-long wilderness and public land disputes in Utah.
"The time has come to bring everyone to the same table in a spirit of trust, cooperation and shared vision to resolve these issues," noted Walker. "I am confident the members of this group share mine and the lieutenant governor's goal to reach consensus, create solutions and see the process through the closure one region at a time."
"We've gone from a top-down to a bottom-up approach and we're going to make things happen," pointed out the Utah governor.
The plan is to set up wilderness work groups in various areas across Utah as determined by officials in the individual regions, indicated Walker.
The members are charged with the goal to find the best land use and management strategy for the areas. The panels will be similar in makeup, including government leaders and members from various private groups, but will vary in representation by geographic area.
"The chairs at the table won't change much as we work across the state," said Lt. Gov. Gayle McKeachnie. "What will change are the faces. We'll always include representatives from the counties, the federal government, the environmental and outdoor groups and the state, but the individuals who sit in will likely change."
"Since local issues are best solved at the local level with cooperation from the state, we want those most involved in the issues of a specific area to be part of the team in that area," explained McKeachnie.
The slots, while flexible, will generally represent a cross-section of members, according to the governor.
Consistently included in the memberships will be representatives from the United States Bureau of Land Management; the county commissioners; the governor's office; the state's departments of natural resources and agriculture; the oil, gas and mining industries; recreation as well as environmental groups; and the Utah Schools and Institutional Trust Land Administration (SITLA).
The state's congressional delegation will also be an integral part of the process, pointed out Walker.
Once a group has reached consensus on a parcel of land, state officials will work with Utah's congressional delegation to draft and pass legislation in Washington, D.C., officially designating a region for the specific uses.
"This is an encouraging development," commented Utah BLM director Sally Wisely. "Nobody wants to see this issue resolved more than the BLM. We know the land and the resources and look forward to sharing this information with those stakeholders seeking a solution."
The wilderness plan and process proposed by the governor is not designed with an end date in mind. Recognizing that the issues require consideration and factoring in the variance in circumstances from one region to another, Walker and McKeachnie intend to focus on a productive process rather than a specific outcome.
"Anyone who has any history with these issues knows how difficult the task ahead is," said Walker. "The difference this time is that everyone will have to say before deals are made. Everyone will agree before action is taken. We know it will take time to build consensus, but it will be well worth the effort and we're confident we can do it together."