Summit County Councilor still resistant as county joins roadless rules petition
Summit County Councilor Roger Armstrong’s resistance to the county joining the petition Gov. Gary Herbert’s Office is spearheading that would create a state-specific version of the U.S. Forest Service rule regarding roadless areas has not wavered.
Armstrong compared the current process to what the county experienced while participating in U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop’s public lands initiative. The legislation addressed land protection, conservation, recreation and economic development for more than 18 million acres of land. But, the county reconsidered its involvement when the final draft of the bill came out.
“I think this is ultimately intended to degrade the roadless rule,” he said last week. “We saw what happened with the public lands initiative process. There were a variety of stakeholders and we came up with some very thoughtful suggestions of what we wanted to see and in the end they did what they wanted to do.
“I believe this will be a process that is pushed to appeal or limit the roadless rule,” he added. The county has been in discussions for weeks about how to respond to the governor’s petition. Armstrong’s remarks came as the County Council last week reviewed a draft of a letter that will be sent to the Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office on behalf of the county. The letter includes the county’s suggestions for how to categorize all of the roadless areas in the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest that are within the county’s boundaries. Armstrong in particular has expressed worry that a state-specific roadless rule could erode protections of wilderness areas, a concern shared by a number of environmental groups that have urged the county to oppose the change. County staffers, though, have counseled the elected officials to take a seat at the table alongside other counties. The rest of the County Council appears to understand Armstrong’s concerns. But, the other members are still in favor of participating to ensure the county’s interests, particularly as it involves forest management, have a higher likelihood of being heard.
Glenn Wright, a County Council member, said he is primarily concerned about risk of a large fire. He said there is no assumption that all of the dead wood will be cleared out if the roadless rule is changed. But, it could help thin some of those overgrown areas out by removing the restrictions that are currently in place to prevent vehicle access and removal of timber.
The letter outlines the county’s desire to have more flexibility when it comes to forest management to allow for the removal of dead or fallen trees to reduce the risk of a catastrophic fire. Officials agree a large fire would significantly impact the water sheds.
“We wish to maintain the primitive nature of these areas as much as possible,” the letter reads. “It is not our desire to exempt these lands from the roadless rule as a way to open them up for mineral extraction or other commercial uses or in an attempt to claim them for the state, removing them from federal management.”
County Council Chair Kim Carson emphasized her interest in the state receiving an exemption from the Forest Service’s roadless rule is to protect the watershed. She acknowledged other counties’ participation may be based on a desire to loosen restrictions to allow for more oil and gas exploration, however.
“We want to be careful not to tell other counties what to do,” she said. “But, I think as far as the whole process goes, I would like to somehow put that in a letter to say we have concerns this will be used as a tool to undermine the roadless rule.”
Community members and environmental groups have spoken out against the county’s participation in the petition, with most overwhelmingly supporting the current roadless rule and opposing the state’s desire to change it. County Councilors recently met with representatives of the environmental groups to explain the county’s stance.
“They want us to do nothing with this, but it really is providing a tool to create temporary roads that will allow for forest health reasons to go in and clear timber,” said County Councilor Chris Robinson. “The parade of horribles that one might conjure won’t happen in our county by doing the things which are in this plan. If our county doesn’t express our opinions, the Department of Natural Resources will come up with something anyways.”
The county plans to send its letter later this month after edits are made based on the County Council’s conversation.
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