It had appeared the council had become bogged down on formulating a proposal that would be anything except the status quo since the late ‘90s. Members of the council had spent hours and hours hammering through the details and options for a recommendation, and though it seemed that might have been all for naught, it now appears there may be majority support for designating up to 390,000 acres of wilderness in our county. That’s quite a step from the 251,000 acres of wilderness that has been the county’s recommendation the past 15 years, but it’s still less than half the amount that some environmental groups are calling for.
The Bishop Land Initiative has sought guidance from communities in our region about how best to manage our public lands. Rep. Rob Bishop has charged a number of southeastern Utah counties with providing local input so that he can forward a bill to Congress that shows grassroots involvement. A number of counties have already weighed in, but the divisive (or shall I call it well-rounded) community that makes up the greater Moab area, has had a difficult time finding consensus. These divisions over how best to use public lands, from development to preservation to the recreational points in between, is a Grand County hallmark.
Now there’s talk about doing some “horse trading” of land parcels, wherein some tracts are deemed more suitable than others for hard recreation and natural resource extraction, while other sections are more suitable as wilderness.
In my mind, it’s easier to decide which areas should be wilderness. If there are areas that haven’t been crisscrossed with seismograph roads that have been taken over by mountain bikes, motor bikes and four-wheelers, those lands are clearly of wilderness quality. And while some lands might have been wilderness quality 150 years ago, recreational and industrial use since then may have changed their nature to the extent that they should continue to be used for multiple purposes.
I had the recent chance to fly over Island in the Sky and the Big Flat, and I was amazed to see the number of roads across it. I wasn’t dismayed or disgusted, it simply looked to me that this land is being used a lot, and has historically been used and should continue to be used for a variety of purposes, including four-wheeling, mountain biking, livestock grazing and energy development. At a recent county council meeting this area was branded as being a “problem child” because of colliding uses. I don’t think that makes the Big Flat a problem. I think it shows that folks who play in this giant sand box need to responsibly share it.
Yes, I know some people who drive out to Dead Horse and Grand View Points may sneer at seeing an oil flare in the distance, just as they’ve disdained the topaz blue potash ponds down by the river. But I think that’s a small percentage of visitors.
Part of the Big Flat is called Arth’s Pasture, and was named after my great-grandfather, Arthur Taylor, who was one of many pioneering businessmen who brought sheep and cattle to southeastern Utah. In actuality, the Big Flat was one of the first industrial areas in Grand County, by virtue of the fact that ranching and farming were the primary occupations in the late 1800s and well into the 1900s. There still are stockmen whose livelihoods depend on the high desert grasses of this plateau.
In a recent county council meeting, it was suggested that the Big Flat be part of a potential horse-trading agreement. I would suggest that the Big Flat, in addition to other areas, be among those sections that are traded for wilderness. The Big Flat is what it is: a reasonably developed natural area that plays host to dozens of uses, none of which should be curtailed. More closely monitored, perhaps, but not curtailed. The area would barely have qualified for wilderness status 60 years ago, and it surely wouldn’t qualify as wilderness now.
I appreciate the council’s willingness to support wilderness, or at least to support the fact that a very hefty percentage of our populace thinks it’s very important. Many people in the preservation camp are not willing to compromise at all in the area of multiple use, but instead choose to protest approved and pending projects in their ambition to say no to anything but wilderness.
The picket line is the easy way out. The more difficult task is working toward compromise.