The Bishop Public Lands Initiative process (PLI), while painful and complex, is a better alternative for making long-term land allocations in our county than use of Presidential proclamation to create national monuments. The PLI process allows local input into the future of public lands in our county. That being said however, based on preliminary voting, I believe our council has gone beyond what I would consider to be a fully balanced approach. Current recommendations appear to me to be weighed heavily toward conservation designations championed by large environmental interests, which will immediately and in the future restrict our access to and use of these lands.
While I realize we have residents that belong to these groups and share their interests, Grand County’s recommendations and input should be based on desires of all residents of our county. I believe the flaws in this current round of public involvement were evident with the anger expressed by many local residents at the recent public hearing. This effort has provided virtually no new substantive input or information that wasn’t previously presented in public involvement from last year. I recognize the value of lands in eastern Utah and Grand County to residents far and wide, but Grand County’s recommendations should be about what our citizens and businesses want. The needs and desires of others outside our county and state will be represented and debated in full Congressional hearings as this legislation moves forward.
I am not against recommending wilderness designations in Grand County; the new council is simply recommending too much. It appears to me that we are using wilderness designations as a tool to stop other types of uses, rather than identifying and recommending lands that have true wilderness character. If 70 to 80 miles of designated roads and trails in the Dolores Triangle area have to be closed to create wilderness, then perhaps we don’t really have wilderness there to begin with. The same could be said with recommending wilderness in areas with existing oil and gas leases adjacent to producing oil and gas fields in the eastern Book Cliffs.
The new council has also recommended creation of a National Conservation Area (NCA) in our county, and likewise, has gone too far with that. Creating an NCA along our Colorado River way, Fisher Towers, Mary Jane Canyon and areas around the Sand Flats may be reasonable. Running it clear to the top of the La Sals in order to ostensibly safeguard our watersheds is not necessary. Our watersheds could be afforded all the protection necessary by simply having the legislation prohibit oil and gas leasing, mining and other types of industrial development within the watershed. Designating it an NCA, which would surround several tracts of private property on the mountain, will almost certainly result in future restrictions to roads and trails, grazing and other forms of recreational development.
I oppose closures of any roads or trails suggested from council workshops. In 2008, Grand County, working with BLM, created a travel management plan. That effort started with approximately 6,000 miles of inventoried roads and trails, and eliminated over half of them. Our motorized recreation community and residents compromised considerably and in good faith in that effort. Yet here we are seven years later making another cut from our roads and trail system. People will say it’s only 80 or 100 miles out of 2,600 miles, so it’s not a big deal. But where does it end? When do we finally stop closing popular roads and trails under the guise of new initiatives?
The motorized roads and trails we have are a significant component of our recreation economy. In fact, I suggest that in addition to our national and state parks, this road and trail system is what put Moab on the map. There are millions of acres of red rock landscape in southern and southeastern Utah, yet here, as a result of past mineral exploration and development, we have a road and trail system that allows people to go out into our backcountry, whether it’s because they enjoy motorized travel, or whether it’s the only way they can see it. We made big compromises on roads and trails in a very open, public and deliberative process in 2008. I oppose any further reduction or loss of this asset.
I think we need to find a more reasonable balanced approach that provides areas for all uses and agendas. Practical wilderness areas to preserve some of our natural landscape, river canyons and watersheds protected from industrial development, roads and trails to provide access to our backcountry, and mineral development areas to help generate revenues for our county. I think our council could do a better job of balance and representing all our residents than the direction the majority is recommending at this time.
Lynn Jackson has served on the Grand County Council for two years and previously spent 32 years in public land management in southeastern Utah.