Summit County considers joining effort to oppose transferring public lands to the state |

Summit County considers joining effort to oppose transferring public lands to the state

Council members contemplate pulling out of the Public Lands Initiative

Nearly 20 members of the Keep Public Lands in Public Hands campaign attended the Summit County Council meeting on Wednesday while donning these stickers.
(Angelique McNaughton/Park Record)

Summit County Council members say they are strongly considering pulling out of U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) public lands initiative because the current draft of the bill is “inconsistent with our community’s values.”

Wednesday, the County Council discussed whether they want to maintain the county’s involvement with the bill or pursue a separate piece of legislation, which would include passing a resolution supporting federal control of millions of acres throughout the state.

“We do run the risk of being labeled as a stakeholder that supports the overall bill,” said County Councilor Roger Armstrong. “We should reengage, but if we can’t get what we want from the bill itself, perhaps, we pull out and pursue our own bill. If the public lands initiative doesn’t get support, we might still be able to get the protections that we need because, on our end, this is not a partisan piece of legislation that we put together. It is something that benefits a number of stakeholders and it protects critical watersheds.”

Bishop and U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) have been working for nearly four years with various stakeholders to come up with a proposal to improve the management of public lands, particularly in the southern part of the state.

The legislation addressed land protection, conservation, recreation and economic development for more than 18 million acres of land. It was crafted from proposals submitted by Summit, Duchesne, Uintah, Carbon, Emery, Grand and San Juan Counties.

The draft said approximately 26, 701 acres that are located in Summit, Duchesne and Uintah Counties would be added to the 456,000 acres of existing wilderness in the Uinta Mountains. It also would establish three special management areas, including the Widdop Mountain, East Fork Smiths Fork and Little West Fork Blacks Fork.

Since the bill’s introduction, it has been heavily scrutinized by groups who oppose the transfer of federal public lands to the state, including the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club. A group of nearly 20 volunteers that are part of the “Keep Public Lands in Public Hands” campaign attended the County Council discussion about the matter on Wednesday.

County Councilor Glenn Wright said he is opposed to an all-encompassing bill, adding “the views of other counties are dramatically different than our own.”

“They have very different concerns than what we have here and I think we need to uphold our values,” Wright said. “I would be in favor of a Summit County-only bill, but I am very sympathetic to the staff’s concerns about time spent on it because we don’t know if it would go very far.”

Janna Young, director of intergovernmental affairs, advised council members to weigh the risks associated with running a separate bill. She said the public lands proposal could move forward and pass without the county’s revisions included.

“He’s (Bishop) got limited political capital and he really won’t be pushing for our bill,” Young said. “Now may be the only time to get these watershed protections in there for the High Uintas, even though there may be these other damaging components of the bill.”

County Council members agreed to consider joining Salt Lake City and Castle Valley in passing a resolution urging Utah Gov. Gary Herbert and state legislators to stop using taxpayers’ money to fund the transfer of control of public lands. If a resolution is drafted, a public hearing would be required before it is considered for approval.

“We have two of the most conservative states (Wyoming and Utah) and, including government stakeholders and landowners, we have come up with a proposal that we all support to expand the wilderness,” said Kim Carson, a County Council member who has been heavily involved with the county’s role in the process. “We strongly believe in the merits of Summit County’s proposal.”

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