High Desert Hoofbeats
End the bickering...
by Sena Taylor Hauer
Feb 20, 2014 | 638 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Like college students burning the midnight oil, local folks waited until the last minute to comment on a congressman’s effort to gather input on how eastern Utah federal lands should be managed. Grand County Council members now have their work cut out for them as they sift through 170-some comments on Utah Rep. Rob Bishop’s public lands initiative, a new step toward charting the future of their use.

This will be a challenging task for the council, which will be scheduling a public hearing next month for residents to voice how they feel the federally managed lands in Utah should be used. The council will be soliciting the help of a mediator at the upcoming meeting, which is expected to be contentious and emotional. At stake is the fate of these lands, most of which have been tied up in wilderness study areas that have left vast tracts in limbo since the 1970s.

If successful, the Bishop initiative will give some certainty as to which lands should be permanently reserved in national park-like status or be used for a variety of other purposes. The effort seeks answers on what portions should have roads, be swapped for state lands, developed as quasi-industrial natural resource extraction zones or harvested for timber. This is a lofty goal for Bishop, to try to end the ages-long question mark that has branded the lands and served as a dividing line between environmental conservationists and economic-development conservatives. Bishop’s effort, at least in Utah, might put an end to the guessing game of whether these lands should remain in their natural state or be developed.

Bishop’s method, to solicit local input for creating county-based direction, has started with gathering comments from the people who live closest to these lands. The operative word here is “plan,” as opposed to “solution” or “consensus,” because there certainly will never be a unanimous majority on this most sensitive topic. What is attractive is the possibility that the limbo-like status on these lands might actually be settled, and we can end the bickering and get on with the business of living in the West with what we have to work with.

Bishop hopes to move legislation through regular order, via public hearings, mark-ups and open congressional debate. This is opposed to executive order, which can be handed down by the president and can happen at any time. Locals have been given the opportunity to say how they would like to see things managed, but strangely enough this first solicitation of their input had a lackluster start. It took a while before many people put pen to paper. Blame it on the holidays or the winter blahs, but the Grand County Council had to extend a Jan. 17 deadline through the end of the month to generate enough feedback to present to Bishop. Perhaps everyone’s word processors were frozen up by the outside temperatures, but after the deadline for comments was extended, voila, the letters came sailing in.

County officials say the majority of comments thus far are calling for aggressive environmental protections. Locals who disagree with that viewpoint will have only themselves to blame if that is the recommendation that is forwarded to Congress. If the matter were put to a local vote – which it won’t be – it’s anyone’s guess as to the result, but I suspect it would reflect the tone of the recent letters.

So here’s your chance, Grand County residents, to help shape a more permanent policy about what should happen to these lands. If you didn’t write a letter to the council, you can still speak your piece next month. The date of the public hearing will be announced soon.

My hope, which I believe is Bishop’s goal, is to take away the question marks, give people a chance to say how they feel, and show that conservation and economic development arguments have been weighed and heard. Let’s all try to be part of a locally based management plan that can guide answers to some of the most challenging, long-standing land disputes in our state.

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