Public lands argument comes to Park City |

Public lands argument comes to Park City

The mission of the Project for Deeper Understanding is to identify an issue that has become polarizing and divisive to the community and to put together a forum for people on both sides of the argument to talk it out in a respectful way.

"It’s all about trying to learn from those with whom one would normally avoid having contact," said Charles Robinson, pastor of St. Luke’s Church and organizer of the event.

If any issue warranted a deeper understanding in Utah and around the West, it’s the debate over public lands and whether the federal or state government should have more control.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative, three years in the making, was unveiled earlier this year, and Summit County officials were left wondering why all the input they provided was seemingly disregarded. In particular, a goal of Summit County was to create Watershed Management Areas to improve the watershed of the High Uintas.

"What is in the draft does not work and is not consistent with of any of the goals and, remarkably, with other federal regulations and state regulations," County Attorney Robert Hilder said in February. "It is inconsistent with wilderness definitions and it disregards watersheds that were important to include."

Other flare ups surrounding public lands this year include arguments over the proposed designation of a Bears Ears National Monument in southern Utah, which would protect nearly two million acres of land from private use; and, in the highest profile incident, a militia took over the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon for 41 days in protest of federal control over public lands.

The Project for Deeper Understanding will hold a panel discussion, free and open to the public, from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, April 5 at St. Luke’s Church, 4595 N. Silver Springs Dr.

Robinson said the Project’s planning team met in early January to discuss the next topic and the Public Lands Initiative was the clear favorite.

"I suspect there is substantial mistrust between many within the environmental and wilderness protection communities and those within the economic development and resource extraction communities," Robinson said. "Furthermore, not every citizen knows about and/or fully understands the Initiative. The goals of the Project forum include both respectful dialogue and community education."

Panel members scheduled to participate are: Fred Ferguson, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz; David Garbette, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance; Juan Palma, chief conservation officer for Hispanics Enjoying Camping, Hunting and the Outdoors (HECHO); John Ruple, research associate professor at the University of Utah who is currently researching state efforts to control public lands; and Casey Snider, legislative director for Rep. Bishop. The panel discussion will be moderated by Summit County Council Vice Chair Chris Robinson.

"We are very pleased with all the panelists who have agreed to participate," Robinson said. "It always take a measure of courage to present your ideas to the public and to do so through an open question and answer conversational process. You cannot control the questions that may be asked of you and there really is no place for a prepared speech in the way we structure our forums. So our panelists are literally ‘putting themselves out there,’ and that takes courage."

Robinson said he hopes the forum will result in both sides of the public lands argument at least understanding each other a little better, and for those community members who attend to have a greater grasp of both sides, as well.

"In addition to furthering the level of the public’s understanding of the topic and the issues involved, we always hope that everyone on all sides of the issue will have listened intently to those with whom they disagree, learned something from them, and have come to a ‘deeper understanding’ of why and how those with different perspectives came to hold those perspectives," Robinson said.

"This has little to do with everyone coming to agreement or ending the evening by holding hands and singing ‘Kum Ba Yah,’ but with growing in respect for and dialogue with the other."

The Project for Deeper Understanding will hold its Public Lands Initiative panel discussion from 7-9 p.m. Tuesday, April 5 at St. Luke’s Church, 4595 N. Silver Springs Dr. For more information, call Pastor Charles Robinson at 435-901-2131.

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