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Public land for all uses - but not on every acre, BLM's Utah director says

Juan Palma discusses issues with Carbon residents

Sun Advocate Reporter

Juan Palma, the man responsible for managing more Utah land than all private owners combined, said he's a strong believer in multiple use on public lands, but that "multiple use is not possible on every square acre."

The Bureau of Land Management Utah director spoke with a small group citizens and local officials at the Fairgrounds Event Center Thursday. He was in town as part of a regional tour to introduce himself and get to know more about local issues.

Palma said that while he believes renewable energy will be the way of the future, the future is a long way off. "Between now and then, we'll have to continue to use fossil fuel," he stated.

The director told listeners that he is well aware of the conflicting claims involving Utah's local governments and federal agencies over ownership and development of back country dirt roads. "I think we may be on the cusp of finding a solution, and I don't think I'm being Pollyannish," he said.

Palma said the bureau has been working with Iron County to define the situation and "resolve the issues in one fell swoop."

Residents expressed past frustrations with the BLM regarding land use, mainly because Price district managers have not always stayed long enough in the region to gain familiarity with local people and issues.

Palma said he understood the need for long-term relationships and noted that there are still several vacancies to be filled in this region that he hopes to fill with people who can stay longer.

Another commenter said that people have become wary of dealing with local BLM representatives because decisions always get kicked upstate or to Washington, D.C.

To that, Palma replied that chain of command issues are frustrating to citizens. "Indecisiveness is what really drives people crazy," he declared.

The director said one solution is to involve people in land management issues from the outset. While the BLM has the decision-making responsiresponsibility, "We realize we are the stewards of what belongs to all of us," he said to Christian Bryner, a county attorney who was appearing as a private citizen at the meeting.

Bryner had commented that as a member of a family that traces its background in the county to the early days of settlement, the old folks have come to think of the public lands as "our land" for mining, grazing and recreation.

Palma also addressed the issue of road closures in certain parts of the West Tavaputs Plateau gas project now getting underway.

While the road closures may be disappointing to some off-road vehicle users, they do represent a compromise solution among industry, environmental and archaeological interests. This was a demonstration of the "multiple use, but not all on the same acre" principle, he explained.

With so many interests involved, it is imperative that all get together and work up a joint solution to decide what is the best use for any particular tract, Palma said.

In some cases, the land may suit recreation, in others, mining and gas, and in still others, ranching or preservation.

"It is not the economy versus the environment," he explained. "No, it is the economy and the environment."

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