Summit County says Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative draft is inconsistent with proposals
U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) has released his public lands proposal and Summit County officials aren’t impressed, with some suggesting the county reconsider its role in the process.
Wednesday, County Council members met to discuss inconsistencies within Bishop’s draft of the Utah Public Lands Initiative Act.
According to staff, the legislation doesn’t reflect the proposal the county’s Wilderness Advisory Group originally submitted. The advisory group, comprised of various stakeholders representing different land interests, was tasked with drafting a map to identify certain areas for conservation and others for development. It was one of the only groups from participating counties that reached a consensus on its recommendation.
"Several edits are required to bring the draft legislation into line with Summit County’s resolution and language for the watershed management areas, special management area and wilderness," Lisa Yoder, Summit County Sustainability Coordinator, wrote in a report.
The county’s proposal recommended an expansion of the Uinta Mountains wilderness designation by 23,903 acres, including the creation of watershed management areas and special management areas for wildlife and grazing.
"When we entered this it was under the notion that if we don’t agree with this we can pull out at any time. pulling out and being one less county in the whole initiative proposal that sends a strong message," Yoder said.
Bishop and U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) have been working for more than three years with various stakeholders to come up with a proposal to improve the management of millions of acres throughout the state.
The legislation, comprised of a nearly 70-page document, addresses 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 says 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 establishes three special management areas, including the Widdop Mountain, East Fork Smiths Fork and Little West Fork Blacks, consisting of about 19,000 acres in the Ashley National Forest.
Marion Klaus, a county resident who attended the council meeting, said she was looking forward to the potentially expanded wilderness area, adding that the Uintas are "one of the main reasons I moved here." However, Klaus told Council members she was concerned when she read the draft’s language.
"I think it’s important you know all the problems with the Wilderness Act and NEPA (National Environmental Policy Act)," Klaus testified to council members. "I think Bishop would like to undermine the Wildness Act and others that allow us to be engaged citizens."
In an interview with The Park Record, Bishop said his office understood there would be some feedback once the draft was released. He said each county will have an opportunity to resubmit suggestions, that could be incorporated.
"There may be a time that we have to say what the county wants we can’t do, but I doubt that will happen. I also can’t guarantee that everything each county writes and gives to me will be incorporated," Bishop said. "But I think they will get a significant amount of what they want."
One of the reasons the draft is inconsistent with the county’s proposal is because the proposal was submitted in the wrong format, Bishop said, adding that it was also "very vague."
"The draft discussion had to be in standard legislative language," Bishop said. "I don’t have any problems with the map or designations. I’m asking for the same input from other counties as well and there may have to be some tweaking.
"If everything is based on precedent of the past it won’t work," Bishop said. "There may have to be some areas where they have to have some wiggle room."
Bishop said he is "still frustrated with some groups up there" because he doesn’t suspect "they will ever be satisfied with stuff from us," before quickly adding "most of those are outside of Utah."
"The entire process we’ve been trying to communicate all this. We took what the counties wanted, have been faithful to that, realizing full well there will be some nuances," Bishop said.
Council member Kim Carson, who is also a member of the advisory group, said members particularly focused on the creation of Watershed Management Areas to improve the watershed of the High Uintas.
"We want any changes to be consistent with our original proposal and we need to pen a letter and convey to them the issues we have with the proposal as a whole," Carson said.
"What is in the draft does not work and is not consistent with of any of the goals and, remarkably, with other federal regulations and state regulations," Robert Hilder, county attorney, said. "It is inconsistent with wilderness definitions and it disregards watersheds that were important to include."
Paul Spitler, director of campaigns for The Wilderness Society and member of the advisory group, said he was surprised the draft was "riddled with so many loopholes."
"We the stakeholders were very specific in hammering out that language and it was done that way for a reason," Spitler said. "I think the county needs to encourage Chairman Bishop to go back to what the stakeholders in Summit County agreed to. We have found areas of agreement where we thought none existed and have been able to forge, what I would say, is an unprecedented agreement.
"I want to know why that agreement wasn’t honored," he said.
Jennifer McDonald, a self-described lifelong Republican, was selected as the Summit County Republican Party chair last week.