The grand compromise: The search for a public lands resolution

Published: Sunday, June 22 2014 3:10 p.m. MDT

Updated: Sunday, June 22 2014 3:10 p.m. MDT

He said, "There have been times...that there was one side or the other who thought they had the guaranteed, safe upper hand as it was and if they stood pat, and stuck with the status quo, they would come out OK." He said now the threat of losing something provides a healthy détente.

This lands process, as a concept, has forged like positions for two unlikely bedfellows — Emery County and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA).

Representatives of both say they prefer a wilderness bill to a monument designation.

"The impetus for us doing this is to have some local control for what gets designated as wilderness," said Ray Petersen, Emery County's public lands coordinator. "SUWA's Red Rock Wilderness deal or a monument designation is totally out of control, so if we can maintain some input, and some control in this process, why would we not want to do that?"

And from Scott Groene, SUWA's executive director: "I would rather we reach agreement on wilderness legislation. It would affect a much larger amount of wilderness and there could be greater certainty with legislation. We could resolve more issues."

Working the deal

Bishop is working with each of the seven counties to come up with individual public lands management proposals that contemplate wilderness designations and zones where oil and gas development, mining and recreation occur. It could be that all seven counties are part of the final package. It could be that all are not.

"All of them are just looking for certainty," Bishop said, who is still months out from having maps that detail what that proposal ultimately will look like.

Emery County is farther along in the process than the others, having submitted its plan to Bishop two years ago.

"We have negotiated a compromise over time, since this latest effort, going back a couple of decades," Petersen said.

When the Bureau of Land Management abolished cross-country motorized travel and instead designated only specific routes where it was allowed, Petersen said it was a rancorous and dramatic change for residents.

"It was the most painful process, a big change. For some of the users, it was nearly the end of the world to have to be confined to ride on trails."

The decision closed hundreds of miles of trails and was not well received, Petersen said. But within a couple of years the locals decided they could live with it.

"It took a lot of time to go through that. The end result is that we have better management of the resources."

Park expansion?

He said that same idea is at play with the idea of expanding Goblin Valley State Park by 136,000 acres. Such a move involves a transfer of BLM-managed lands and could be accomplished through Bishop's bill.

"The east side of those canyons, day in and day out, are the busiest slots on the swell. It is the farthest away from the BLM's Price field office and it really needs management now; the BLM acknowledges that."

So how is it accomplished?

"My advice is to start 15 years ago," Petersen said. "It takes time. You have to be committed to it. You cannot do it quickly and it is not going to be easy. You have to commit to collaborate, understanding that you are not going to get everything you want."

Groene said his group is waiting to see what the individual county plans look like and what ultimately is laid out on the bargaining table.

"We have said all along the only way we will reach agreement is everyone will have to make concessions, including ourselves."

Reaching agreement on a sensitive environmental issue in which industry and advocates have to compromise is not without precedent in Utah.

SUWA, the state of Utah, Bill Barrett Corp., and a host of others forged concessions in a programmatic agreement in 2010 hailed by then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar as historic for what it gave up, and for what it allowed in the Nine Mile Canyon area.

Then, as in the process unfolding now, no one got what they wanted, but they got enough.

Petersen said ideally, public lands planning involves looking beyond one's own hood ornament as you're traveling toward your destination.

"There is plenty of resource, but every resource will not be used for every reason," Petersen said. "The big picture is we have to make land use decisions about what is best for the land, and sometimes that is not what is best for me, and I am not always going to get what I want. "

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com

Twitter: amyjoi16

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