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Western counties lobby Congress for regional public land mandate

Last week, county commissioners and representatives from Utah, Washington and Idaho lobbied the United States Congress for a regionally driven process when wilderness bills or designations negatively affecting local areas are considered.

Carbon Commissioner John Jones and county public lands director Rex Sacco joined the group traveling to Washington, D.C. .

The representatives worked under the guidance of Robert Weidener with the Rural Public Lands County Council.

The lobbying firm is paid by counties throughout the western U.S. to represent local interests in various public lands issues, including wilderness and federal payments in lieu of taxes.

The members of the group targeted their efforts on eastern congressional representatives who generally have little information about or experience with the issues.

The group asked Congress to mandate that any requests for public land actions be supported by local elected officials.

The group also asked federal officials to mandate that all bills be carried by the congressman representing the county or resource area involved in the land use issue.

A good example is recent action by Sen. Bob Bennett, who worked with the Washington County Commission to establish federal legislation that was signed on March 30 after passage of the Ominibus Public Lands Bill.

On April 2, Congressman Maurice Hinchey of New York introduced the Red Rock Wilderness Bill with 106 co-sponsors, down 54 members from the 110th Congress.

Jones and Sacco indicated that, in their eyes, there was little doubt that the lower number of co-sponsors for the Red Rock bill was a direct result of the joint efforts of the group.

They feel that real progress was made and that it will benefit local representatives like Jim Matheson, Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz who, along with other congressmen from the west, cannot get the information out alone.

"This message I believe was very effective," stated Jones. "Many states can relate to having actions proposed at a federal level by someone who doesn't have to suffer the impacts of it."

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