High Uinta Wilderness area may grow
The Wilderness Society recently approached the Summit County Council about expanding the wilderness area boundaries of the High Uintas as part of U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop’s public lands bill initiative.
The group made some proposals for the expansion of the existing wilderness area that contains 456,000 acres in the Uinta Mountains east of Kamas and south of Mirror Lake Highway by 28,000 acres. In response, the county formed a Public Lands/Wilderness Advisory Group.
The group of 10 includes council members Kim Carson and Dave Ure, and Sustainability Coordinator Lisa Yoder. They represent different land interests and plan to study the proposals and ultimately make a recommendation to the council.
Bishop’s Utah Public Lands Initiative aims to build a consensus among stakeholders in numerous eastern counties to designate lands for conservation and development, according to the congressman’s website.
"It’s really important for us to look at all the points of view and what the lands are being used for currently, and what’s going to be the best use of the land for the greatest group of people," Summit County Council member Kim Carson said. "We have a diverse group of stakeholders at the table and we’ve already had some good discussions that were extremely helpful. I think it is going to be a good process and I think it has some great potential for us because it’s such unique opportunity,"
The Public Lands/Wilderness Advisory Group is tasked with exploring the pros and cons of expanding the wilderness designation and whether or not the county should even participate.
Expansion of the wilderness could preserve those areas for future generations because of the restrictions a designation places to limit the damage or alteration of the land, Carson said.
"I think the biggest benefit would be that people travel all over the world to go to wilderness areas," she said. "So there could be an economic benefit from having increased tourism."
Another aspect of the initiative involves an exchange of a wilderness designation for the protection of public lands.
"What we’re hoping to do is see if there is land that some of the municipalities may be able to use, so we can help them protect, for instance, a watershed," Carson said.
But at the same time, concerns have been raised about the negative consequences associated with participation, such as the effects on grazing and wildfires.
While grazing would still be allowed, a wilderness designation would restrict access to the area to not include motorized or mechanized equipment, possibly hampering the ability to maintain the upkeep of trails and fencing, Carson said.
Another concern Carson mentioned involving the limited access, is the affect it could potentially have on the county’s ability to suppress wildfires.
"There is a lot at stake with what the different designation of land can do," Yoder said. "It can either bring in or take out revenue."
Ure said he was originally against the idea and only became involved to curtail the process.
"I’ve never seen any wilderness area that after it was made wilderness, it didn’t look worse," Ure said. "I was totally against this, but now I think we can give them what they want, without us being affected."
The Public Lands/Wilderness Advisory Group would like to present its proposal to the county as soon as possible. Representative Bishop has said he would like to present his bill to Congress in the spring.
But, Carson said there are no plans to rush the process and if nothing is accomplished within Bishop’s time frame, they will revisit the opportunity at a later date.
"We’ll take the time we need to do it right," she said. "And if we miss this opportunity, we’ll look forward to the opportunity to visit it again if it looks like it’s the best thing for the county."
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