On April 7, Grand County posted three proposed land management alternatives on its website at www.grandcountyutah.net/landuse.htm. Hard copies of the recommendations will also be available at the county council’s office by the end of this week at the latest, county officials said.
The public will have a chance to comment on each proposal during an April 23 public meeting at the Grand Center. Once the county council gathers additional feedback on the proposals, it plans to vote on a final recommendation, which it will ultimately forward to Rep. Rob Bishop’s office.
The Utah Republican is hoping to submit a public lands bill to Congress this summer, and Grand County Council chairman and study committee member Lynn Jackson said his group gave the congressman plenty of ideas to pore over.
“This is really, big, broad, landscape-scale stuff,” Jackson said April 8.
Each recommendation weighs in on three main issues, including the proposed designation of new wilderness areas, a national recreation area and a transportation corridor that would connect Grand and Uintah counties via Sego Canyon.
The council committee’s recommendations for new wilderness areas range from a low of 218,195 acres to a maximum of 484,446 acres; livestock grazing would be allowed to continue under all three alternatives, and designated cherry-stem roads would remain open.
Jackson said the committee worked to find a balance between recreation, conservation and development on federal lands in Grand County, but environmentalists are not initially thrilled with the balance it came up with.
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) Media Director Mathew Gross said he did not have a chance to review the proposals in depth as of press time this week. But he said it appears that none of the proposals go far enough to protect the county’s public lands.
“At first blush even the best alternative is a major step backwards for environmental protection in Grand County,” Gross said. “The alternatives as currently proposed have zero chance of passing Congress.”
Speaking on his own behalf, local Sierra Club member Marc Thomas said he believes that all of the study committee’s recommendations would impose unwise restrictions from the outset.
“Right at the start, there are a lot of issues that are removed from the table in terms of negotiating,” Thomas said April 8.
All three alternatives, for instance, oppose future presidential designations of new national monuments in Grand County.
Jackson said that provision comes in response to environmental groups’ calls for the creation a 1.4-million-acre Greater Canyonlands National Monument.
The federal Antiquities Act gives the president the power to create national monuments with the stroke of a pen, and Jackson believes that could undermine years of work at the local level.
“He signs a piece of paper and bam – you’ve got a million acres off the table,” Jackson said. “It’s absolutely the antithesis of the collaborative process.”
In lieu of a national monument, the study committee is proposing to create a national recreation area that would be managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM). All three recommendations vary in size, from a low of 117,856 acres to a maximum of nearly 400,800 acres.
Thomas noted that a national recreation area would provide some protections to public lands. But he’s concerned that none of the proposals for a national recreation area or new wilderness areas would protect the northern end of Spring Canyon Road from future oil, gas and potash development.
“If this was any other state, [that area] would be a national monument or a national park,” Thomas said.
Jackson said the study committee came up with its recommendations for that area with representatives from the outdoor recreation industry.
“We worked with the non-motorized recreation community ... [and] they did not show that area north of there as a high priority,” he said.
Any decisions about energy development in the northern Spring Canyon area would ultimately be left to the BLM’s Moab office, Jackson said, noting that the agency is developing a Master Leasing Plan for the overall district.
In addition to that issue, the committee’s recommendations to eliminate future designations of “wild and scenic” rivers in Grand County turned out to be another point of contention.
Jackson said the committee feared that designation would create reserved water rights for the federal government, which could stifle the community’s future water needs.
“It made us uncomfortable because we don’t know where we’ll be in 10, 20 or 30 years,” he said. “What if we had to put a pipe into the river to draw water out of it?”
Despite that provision, Jackson noted that two of the group’s three alternatives call on Congress to permanently protect some of the most spectacular stretches of the Colorado, Green and Dolores rivers.
The Book Cliffs area, meanwhile, would be protected to varying degrees under all three proposals.
Thomas said he believes that the third alternative would do a good job of protecting the wildlife-rich area north of Interstate 70.
But he and other conservationists are concerned about recommendations to create a new transportation corridor through Sego Canyon, worrying that it would facilitate the development of “dirty energy,” including tar sands.
Anyone who would like to comment on the committee’s recommendations is encouraged to attend an April 23 meeting at the Grand Center.
The doors will open at 6 p.m., and the public comment period is scheduled to run from 7 to 9 p.m. A professional third-party facilitator will moderate the event.
After the meeting, local residents will have a chance to submit written comments to the county council through May 2. The council will then review that feedback before it votes on a final recommendation for Bishop’s consideration.