Counties hammer out conservation plans

Officials hope making local conservation plans will keep trust lands usable

Published: Friday, July 9 2010 10:00 p.m. MDT

Andrews said those negotiations have included a wide variety of people with a vested interest in the process, including local farmers, ranchers, elected officials and environmental groups.

In some counties, progress has inched forward slowly; in others, it has come screeching to a near standstill.

"What we see is there is a split of opinion among the environmental community," Andrews said. "There are some who are very open to negotiation and some potential compromise on the theory that something is better than nothing. There are others who want 100 percent — they want exactly what they want and nothing less. At that point, it really isn't a negotiation."

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has been involved in many of those negotiations, something director Scott Groene said is critical for their success.

"We are always open to talk to anyone who is serious about protecting wilderness," he said. "It should be clear by now that unless the Utah Wilderness Coalition, which includes SUWA, is part of the agreement, that the proposals will be stopped in D.C."

In San Juan County, Bennett hosted a series of town meetings to gather input on a conservation plan.

"We're very much in favor of doing this county by county, which is certainly better than a regional or national approach by proponents who do not live here, who don't see this as their backyard," said Commissioner Lynn Stephens.

Stephens said Bennett was driving the planning process, reaching out to environmentalists and others for input.

"I don't think we want to be in the driver's seat," Stephens said. "We just want this to be handled well."

With Bennett's defeat during the May GOP convention, that planning process has shifted into a reluctant holding pattern while commissioners and others await the passage of November's general election.

"We think this process is credible and valid," Stephens said. "We'd like to proceed on with as much continuity as we can and would like very much to involve" Sen. Orrin Hatch's office.

A two dozen-member working committee in Beaver County has for years been trying to craft a land conservation plan, but the effort has since stalled due to lack of community support, said County Commission chair Donald Willden.

Willden, who took part in the working group, said some of the key members who held the committee together have since died.

"I still think we were doing the right thing, but some didn't feel it was worth fighting that battle at the time."

Willden is firm in the belief that a ground-up, locally driven conservation plan is the best approach, even if it is difficult and time-consuming to reach an agreement.

"Land conservation is not a one-size-fits-all proposal. We decided to let this sit for a bit and come back later to get a working group together."Similarly, in Emery County, there are efforts to run legislation to designate some wilderness. Ray Petersen, the county's public land administrator, said officials are still in the process of identifying those potential wilderness areas and are working with the staffs of all Utah's congressional delegation to keep them informed.

"Monument designations cause us great concern. They were considering the San Rafael Swell (as a possible new national monument) and if you look at the Grand Staircase-Escalante situation, we know this is not a new idea. It is out there and it might happen."

e-mail: amyjoi@desnews.com

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