The county council voted 6-0 on Nov. 19 to adopt a process that is designed to give the county a voice in Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative. Council member Patricia Holyoak was absent from the meeting.
Bishop, R-Utah, is spearheading a compromise-driven proposal that could create new wilderness areas in a seven-county region, while freeing up other federally administered lands for resource development. Reps. Jason Chaffetz and Chris Stewart, both Utah Republicans, are also involved in the initiative.
As part of its vote, the council formed a three-person committee that will develop a range of possible countywide public land use designations in the weeks to come. Council members Lynn Jackson, Jim Nyland and Rory Paxman later volunteered to serve on the committee.
The council hopes to present the group’s ideas to county voters and residents in mid-January 2014, and after it gathers additional feedback from them, it plans to vote on final recommendations next February.
Jackson, who brought the item to the council’s attention, noted that every other stakeholder with an interest in the process has already submitted recommendations to Bishop’s office. For its part, however, Grand County turned in a 1999-era wilderness plan.
“Our plans are kind of weak, if you will,” Jackson said – especially in light of conservationists’ recent calls for the creation of a Greater Canyonlands National Monument.
Bishop, who sits on the House Natural Resources Committee and serves as the highest-ranking official on its Public Lands Subcommittee, has said he will consider new wilderness designations that are supported at the local level.
To that end, he and other members of Utah’s congressional delegation began the initiative process in July 2012.
According to a Nov. 19 status report on the initiative, three of the delegation’s members and their staffers have participated in a combined total of more than 400 meetings with elected officials, tribal leaders, non-governmental groups and citizens.
Along the way, they’ve heard from more than 120 different stakeholders and well over 500 individuals who have voiced an interest in the process, the report says.
But that process is starting to wind down, and Jackson suspects that Bishop wants to introduce related legislation in Congress early next year.
Council member Elizabeth Tubbs said she believes that the county needs to get moving if it’s going to come up with its own recommendations before then.
It will be especially important to host a public meeting on those recommendations, while allowing residents’ voices to be heard, she said.
To read the latest report on the Public Lands Initiative, go to: http://robbishop.house.gov/uploadedfiles/public_lands_initiative_staff_report.pdf.
Editor's Note: This version corrects that Rory Paxman is the third council member on the public lands subcommittee, along with Lynn Jackson and James Nyland.