Dear Editor,

The Grand County Council should not recommend the closure of established roads and trails on public lands for the Public Lands Initiative. These roads and trails are important to the long-term health and diversity of our economy, and they contribute to the outdoor lifestyle county residents have enjoyed for decades.

The council should first consider the needs of their constituents who live and work in Grand County. It should not focus on the desires of wealthy, environmental organizations such as Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club and Grand Canyon Trust.

Right now, the Bureau of Land Management has 50,800 acres of Wilderness Study Areas in the Book Cliffs in northern Grand County and manages a total of 3.2 million acres of Wilderness Study Areas in the state. I support wilderness designation of these areas, which meet the characteristics of wilderness.

However, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is pushing to triple the amount of land designated wilderness to 9.1 million acres! This will shut down vast acreage of public lands that now have existing oil, gas and mineral leases; grazing leases; as well as roads that are used by recreationists who want to travel by motorized vehicle or bicycle.

Yes, cyclists should know – wilderness areas are closed to bicycles, too!

According to the Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness can only apply to land “retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation.” It is wrong to recommend establishing wilderness areas where there are now active oil and gas fields, mineral leases, ranching and recreation.

It is also wrong to consider closing Ten Mile Canyon and limiting access to Hey Joe Canyon. This popular recreation area is used by 4-wheel enthusiasts, cyclists and campers and has been featured each year in the Annual Jeep Safari. These types of roads – built by uranium miners – are the reason we now have a thriving recreation and tourism economy.

Less than 5 percent of the land in Grand County is private. Our economy and livelihood is dependent upon multiple-use public land. According to the Headwaters Economic Report, 47 percent of the private employment is recreation-based. Restricting access to public lands hurts recreation.

And though the Headwaters Economic Report downplayed contributions from oil, gas and mining – monies paid from oil, gas and mineral leases and production on public land greatly alleviate the tax burden that we all could bear.

In 2014 alone, Grand County received $3.8 million from the oil and gas industry through oil, gas and mineral leases and production; and Fidelity Exploration & Production paid over $700,000 in property taxes. The Permanent Community Impact Fund Board (CIB) received $7.6 million from oil and gas revenue between 2010 and 2014. The CIB has funded projects here in Moab – such as the Grand Center, the Moab Recreation and Aquatic Center and the Canyonlands Care Center.

The City of Moab, which needs to update the sewage treatment plant, will be dependent upon a CIB grant or loan to make $7 million in improvements that are now needed.

Our county council needs to support its citizens and taxpayers by recommending that existing roads remain open and allowing for multiple-use on public lands. Please – listen to the people who live here. Please – listen to the people who are working hard to raise their families here and create a future for their children. Do not listen to the voices of wealthy, national environmental groups ahead of your own citizens.