A desert vista near the Dugout Ranch along State Route 211, outside the boundaries of Canyonlands National Park. Land use conflicts within five eastern Utah counties: Grand, San Juan, Uintah, Carbon and Wayne, are currently the focus legislation by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) and a variety of public land stakeholders. [Photo by Neal Herbert]

The initial public-input period for Grand County residents in relation to Rep. Rob Bishop’s public-lands bill for southeastern Utah was completed on Jan. 30. Approximately 170 letters were received.

Rep. Bishop is working with a variety of public-land stakeholders in an attempt to resolve public-lands conflicts within five eastern Utah counties: Grand, San Juan, Uintah, Carbon and Wayne.

A preliminary review of the letters submitted indicates the major concerns of Grand County citizens relate to recreation, roads, wilderness, economy, quality of life, water, and resource development.

Sharon Brussell’s letter stated that “recreation is the new economy of the west.”

“Wilderness protections will secure Utah’s future in outdoor recreation and enjoyment, and promotion of these lands will send the message that this state does value the health of its people, wildlife and the natural surroundings that draw people here in the first place,” Brussell wrote.

Many of the letters began with residents stating that they moved to the Moab area because of its scenic beauty and asked that it be protected and undeveloped. Specific areas that were identified for wilderness protection included Morning Glory Arch, Behind the Rocks, Mill Creek Canyon, Labyrinth Canyon, areas within the Book Cliffs and adjacent to Arches National Park.

Kris Kelley said that she endorses Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s (SUWA) Wilderness Act and “would like to see all the land in their Grand County proposal set aside and protected as wilderness.”

“We’re encouraged by the overwhelming local support for wilderness sent to the Grand County Council, but a little discouraged by the lack of progress,” SUWA executive director Scott Groene said. “Our state legislature seems stuck on the same old ‘anti-fed’ rhetoric, as though they’re preparing for another 30 years of public-land fights. This initiative needs movement and imagination from all sides in order to succeed.”

Tracy Reed, owner of the Chile Pepper Bikes, addressed that there are some recreational areas that need protection, as listed in the Public Lands Solution Map she included with her letter. She specified Amasa Back, also known as Cliff Hanger Trail.

“This area is heavily recreated on by all types of motorized as well as non-motorized users and it would be a shame to see this area damaged or significantly changed by natural resource extraction,” she wrote.

However, a few stated that multiple uses of lands should be allowed where applicable.

Dennis Lightfoot said that he believed it is possible to allow responsible development of Grand County’s natural resources without significant harm to the environment or tourism economy.

“This would also provide year-round employment, high-paying jobs and a stable tax base, all things this community sorely lacks at the present,” Lightfoot wrote.

Sagebrush Coalition member Curtis Wells said he is concerned that the plan will include more wilderness lands that would harm the local economy.

“We urge you to move our county in the direction of creating more lands accessible for multiple use,” Wells wrote.

Castle Valley resident Robert O’Brien addressed the protection of watersheds of the La Sal Mountains.

“The bottom line for me is that any plans/suggestions submitted by Grand County to the Bishop process should focus first and foremost on protecting our watershed from the La Sal Mountains,” he wrote.

The council established a three-member study group at their Nov. 19, 2013 meeting to develop recommendations for long-term public-land designations in Grand County. Their intent was to prepare a number of maps illustrating a range of alternatives for the county varying from minimally-to-highly restrictive land-use designations.

These maps and recommendations will then be submitted to Rep. Bishop for consideration as he develops the public lands initiative.

Council chairman Lynn Jackson emphasized that the entire process and final legislative action is not in the control of the Grand County Council.

“The process is driven by a congressional legislative proposal. Congressman Bishop has indicated he will present initial legislation later this summer,” Jackson said. “The public input process Grand County is engaged in will inform the congressman’s proposed legislation; in this way, Congress would not be expected to alone determine the best recourse for Grand County citizens. Congressman Bishop and other congressional leaders will make the final decisions.”

Grand County will post information relating to the study committee on its Web site’s main page, including all public-comment letters received. The county Web site will also provide citizens an opportunity to review the alternative maps, when available, prior to the public meeting.

The council’s study committee will review all comments that were submitted in further detail and prepare an array of alternatives for addressing these issues for presentation to residents at a public meeting to take place in March at the Grand Center.

A professional facilitator will host the public meeting and verbal comments will be taken, Jackson said. There will be an additional time period after the meeting for written comments from county residents on the alternatives drafted by the council study committee.

The final phase will consist of the county council’s review of the public comments and alternatives suggested by the council study committee. The county council will then vote during an open, public meeting on a preferred alternative to submit to Rep. Bishop for consideration in his proposed legislation.

The original deadline for public comment was Jan. 17.

Marc Thomas, a member of the Sierra Club’s Utah Chapter executive committee, asked the council for more time for public comment at the county council’s Jan. 7 meeting.

The councilmen on the public lands subcommittee members were amenable to extending the deadline and did so to Jan. 30.

Rep. Bishop has set a target for fall 2014 to complete the proposal for Congress to review.

“Given the limited time frame for Grand County’s ability to weigh in on this important legislation, an expensive, fully integrated 18-to-24 month study with task groups, field trips, and professional facilitation and automated processes will simply not be possible,” Jackson said.

However, he said the process of this particular land-use initiative has been recognized from the beginning for its collaborative and open approach.

“There are so many stakeholders working together and looking for solutions that it actually appears that this thing is going to work,” Jackson said.

Wilderness protection, recreation major themes of comments on Public Land Initiative 

“We’re encouraged by the overwhelming local support for wilderness sent to the Grand County Council.”

Grand County will post public comment letters on their Web site www.grandcountyutah.net. The county Web site will also provide citizens an opportunity to review alternative maps prior to the public meeting.