Summit County joins discussion about state’s roadless rules petition
Some of Summit County’s elected officials are weary of a petition Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s office is preparing that asks for a state-specific version of the U.S. Forest Service rule regarding roadless areas, saying it feels like “another plank in the floor for state control of federal lands.”
The Governor’s Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office petition says the administration under former President Bill Clinton did not take into account the state’s “unique forests and needs” when it approved the roadless rule in 2001, according to the governor’s office. The rule establishes prohibitions on the construction of roads and timber harvesting on 58.5 million acres within the national forests, according to the Forest Service. Idaho and Colorado are the only other states with rules specific to the national forests within its boundaries. The U.S. Forest Service is currently working with Alaska to establish similar regulations.
The governor’s office argues that a state-specific version of the rule would allow the Forest Service to more effectively manage the forest to prevent catastrophic wildfires. Summit County has been asked to review the roadless areas within its jurisdiction and designate them as in one of four categories: primitive, forest restoration, forest stewardship or as an area that should be removed from the roadless rule. Staffers are recommending all of the county’s areas be labeled as forest stewardship or forest restoration areas to allow for temporary or permanent road construction for forest health reasons.
While Summit County Council members said they are in favor of creating an avenue for the Forest Service to remove overgrown vegetation and trees that are suffering from infestation, they want assurances that the petition will represent their interests. A brief summary of the management areas shows mineral extraction would be allowed in the forest restoration and forest stewardship areas under the state’s petition, which alarmed County Council member Roger Armstrong.
“When I see the state making that recommendation, it is a little suspicious,” said County Councilor Roger Armstrong. “For me, I just want us to be careful if we make a recommendation. That recommendation should be limited to those items that we are most concerned about and that we articulate we regard as important restrictions to leave in place for wilderness areas.
“I get worried that we are being pulled into this with a couple of enticements as a way to address forest management,” he added.
Armstrong expressed a desire to limit motorized travel within the areas to existing routes and remove the ability to allow for mineral extraction.
“These are primitive areas and the most sensitive lands,” he said. “Mineral development could be oil and gas. I don’t know if that qualifies, but potentially. It is not well articulated, but it’s buried there. If what we are trying to get to is tree management, then that’s great. But, if there are additional allowances, we need to be clear on that.”
County Council Chair Kim Carson shared Armstrong’s apprehension. She said the fact that mineral development is listed under primitive management, one of the more restricted areas, is questionable.
Summit County has been asked to make a recommendation to the governor’s office by October. But, County Council members questioned whether the county should even participate if the “state is going to do what it wants anyways.”
“If we don’t respond, I assume we will get saddled with what the state says,” Armstrong said. “The state may very well slap those labels on and disregard the changes within the definitions that we make. We have to be very strategic and micromanage this.”
Sean Lewis, a county planner, said the county’s participation in the process would at least allow officials the opportunity to provide some input. If the Forest Service accepts the state’s petition, a rule-making process would still allow for additional comments.
“We understand these definitions are not ideal for Summit County,” he said. “We have defined goals for our wilderness area and want to maintain the balance for recreational and pristine areas. But, the state will do what they will do whether Summit County agrees with them or not. This is our two cents so we can try to have a seat at the table.”
Summit County Council member Glenn Wright said it could more be effective if the county worked with the local district rangers to come up with a recommendation based on how they think the area should be managed, while eliminating the possibility of mineral extraction.
“I think we have a good game plan to take to the state,” Wright said. “But, the state probably has vastly different ideas than us. They are all about local control. Most of the counties to the east and the south will want to redraw the lines. They want to rip up the maps and draw new boundaries. That is not something we are interested in doing. Our main concern is forest fires, health of the forest and the protection of our local watersheds.”
Ted Walker recently took over as director of the Summit County Children’s Justice Center after the previous director, Christie Hind, stepped down last month.