More wilderness protection for the Uinta Mountains | ParkRecord.com

More wilderness protection for the Uinta Mountains

After months of conversations and tours throughout the High Uinta Mountains, Summit County’s Public Lands/Wilderness Advisory Group has reached a consensus for the expansion of the existing wilderness area as part of U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative.

According to the congressman’s website, Bishop’s plan aims to build a consensus among stakeholders in numerous eastern Utah counties to designate lands for conservation and development. Each county with a vested interest in the area is proposing its own suggested plan for those lands.

The Summit County group is proposing to expand the 456,000-acre wilderness desingation in the Uinta Mountains, east of Kamas and south of Mirror Lake Highway by 23,903 acres, approximately 4,000 acres less than what was originally proposed.

The group presented its proposal to the Summit County Council Wednesday, March 11.

"The whole Public Lands Initiative was spearheaded by Congressman Bishop to reconcile longstanding disputes between the development of public lands verses the conservation of public lands," said Lisa Yoder, the Summit County Sustainability Coordinator. "His goal is to show, as we did, that you can do both. You can compromise and find a middle ground that does both, they don’t have to be mutually exclusive."

During the initial discussions, significant concern was raised about the effect an expanded wilderness designation would have on grazing rights, watersheds, and the general upkeep of the forest areas.

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"That’s why we came up with what we did," Yoder said. "The wilderness area wasn’t expanded as much and there were compromises made."

According to County Council Chair Kim Carson, the reduction in acreage was a result of not wanting "wilderness designation just for the sake of wilderness designation."

"What we did was start from the far eastern edge of the proposal to the western edge and looked at each area individually to decide what is best for this land, what is currently going on and will this really result in high-quality wilderness," Carson said. "It was really site specific."

Carson said she is "incredibly supportive" of the map that was presented.

"I think we came up with a very good end product," she said. "The concern I have is we still have to write the written document to support that, but I’m committed to writing a document that supports what was discussed within our group."

Joe Hickey, a Lonetree, Wyoming, resident with approximately 700 acres in eastern Summit County, who also served with the advisory group, said he believes the proposal is an "equitable agreement."

"I think that Rep. Bishop is trying real hard to have the various groups come together for the betterment of the land," Hickey said. "My interests are: the health of the forest; the watershed; and the ability of the Forest Service to manage the land so we don’t have massive fires that destroy the watershed and the trees."

Hickey said he "hopes with all his heart" as this process continues his interests are preserved.

Rick Schuler, district ranger for the Evanston Mountain Ranger District, said a sincere effort was made by all parties to "realize the real issue."

"And that is forest health and understanding those watersheds and what might be needed for that within the guise of what we could do," Schuler said. "But I think there is a long ways to go before that becomes a reality."

Conservation Director of the Summit Land Conservancy Erin Bragg, who served as a conservation consultant throughout the process, said the proposal combines wilderness and conservation.

"We have something different here," Bragg said. "But I hope that it is not too different that it won’t gain traction in D.C."

The Uintas already have a significant wilderness area, Bragg said, and adding to it will provide protection from development for many years out.

"There is not a lot of development pressure in that area right now, but give it 20, 30, or 50 years and the pressure will be there," Bragg said. "Knowing that we are protecting a little more and working on other areas will be better in the long run."

Each county’s proposal will be submitted to Bishop’s office by March 27. Summit County’s final version will be presented to County Council on March 25.

For more information about Bishop’s Public Land Initiative, go to http://robbishop.house.gov/issues/issue/?IssueID=3623#PublicLandsInitiative