Salazar cited an effort earlier this year between Utah and the Environmental Protection Agency in developing agreements to use “best practices” in developing oil and gas wells in the Uintah Basin.
“When you look at the number of permits we continue to issue around the state, we’re doing it with the benefit of making sure we allow the building and development of oil and gas in the right places and with the right kind of protection,” Salazar said.
Salazar’s visit was just one stop on a whirlwind tour of Colorado, New Mexico and Utah, including Vernal. Before speaking at the Moab Adventure Center, Bureau of Land Management officials took Salazar to the Sand Flats Recreation Area to view the Mill Creek rim and canyon area.
“It’s a pretty big deal to have [Salazar] here,” said BLM Moab Field Office Manager Rock Smith. “Mill Creek Rim is easy to get to and is part of the county’s Wilderness Plan, so we took the opportunity to show him that area and talk about outdoor recreation and wilderness study areas.”
During the hike, Salazar said part of the purpose of the visit was to see things on the ground and understand how the local community and visitors use the land.
“Often what happens with the whole wilderness debate is it ends up turning into a lot of letters from people who may or may not understand what’s happening on the ground,” Salazar said. “It’s important for me to get a sense of some of these places being considered [for wilderness].”
Response to Salazar’s afternoon speech was mixed, with some people holding protest signs and others asking pointed questions. Several people raised concerns about road closures, with David Adams, positioned in his wheelchair in the front row, saying that closing previously established roads negates the ability of disabled citizens to appreciate the outdoors.
“What would your response be to people who are unable to hike, bike, or ride a horse 20-miles to see a destination,” Adams said.
Salazar responded that it is a “high priority” for the Interior Department to ensure access for the disabled, whenever possible, to national parks and wilderness areas.
“We don’t expect that what we do at the end of the day will diminish that value of trying to get access,” Salazar said. “We ought to be able to look at public domain and say ‘those roads have been there… have been used… can be managed in a way that won’t do damage to the environment… and get some kind of resolution.
“This is an example of where people can have an effective dialogue. That’s why we’re doing these listening sessions and why I’ve asked the BLM to give me [information] about what they are seeing in their areas around the country.”
Noting that almost 900,000 acres of wilderness land in Grand and San Juan counties, longtime local resident Ray Tibbetts said, “It’s time to put those lands back into the system so the public can use them right.”
Salazar responded that reality was a number of wilderness study areas merit additional protection but also admitted there were parts of the wilderness areas that should not be designated, adding, “that’s the kind of dialogue we are creating right now.”
Another point of emphasis during Salazar’s speech was the importance of outdoor recreation in the U.S. He commented on the important part outdoor recreation plays in the Moab community and that recreation on BLM-managed lands accounts for about 26 percent of the local economy.
“When we talk about conservation and outdoor recreation, it is really about jobs in America,” Salazar said. “We estimate 6.5 million jobs have been created because of outdoor recreation and conservation… that means to me it is one of the most important sectors in the economy.”
Salazar closed by assuring the audience he was not in Utah to make any announcements or any decisions.
“What I’ve been trying to do from day one… is reaching out and listening to the local community about what they want to be their conservation priorities in the future,” Salazar said. “It’s been a good dialogue, and I’ve been getting a lot of ideas from the communities.”