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Daggett County lands compromise touted as model for nation

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 22 2014 2:15 p.m. MDT

Scott Groene of the Southern Utah Wildrerness Alliance, left, Jerry Steglich, Daggett County commissioner, Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert, Paul Spitler of The Wilderness Society, Mike Swenson of Utah Shared Access and Karen Perry, Daggett County commissioner, join with other local leaders and conservation groups to share the details of a precedent-setting agreement with Daggett County at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A compromise reached on contentious, decades-old land disputes in Daggett County will be incorporated into a lands bill in Congress and could serve as the template for how the rest of the country strikes a balance between conservation and resource development.

During a Wednesday announcement of the deal brokered under the direction of Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, Daggett County Commissioner Jerry Steglich said if groups could reach agreement there, it could happen about anywhere.

The agreement, Steglich said, has Daggett County giving up one-fifth of its land mass — about 100,000 acres for wilderness and conservation designations — with an eye to getting nearly 7,000 acres for resort development he said will help diversify the county's economic base.

"There has been pain and difficulty in this process, but it has been worth it," he said. "We didn't get everything we wanted as a county, but neither did the coalition."

The coalition included multiple environmental groups such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council and conservation groups such as Trout Unlimited.

"This agreement shows conservation and economic development can go hand in hand," said Paul Spitler, The Wilderness Society's director of wilderness campaigns. "The agreement resolves land disputes that have lasted for decades. … It is a good model, not only for the rest of the state, but for the rest of the nation."

The agreement:

Establishes more than 80,000 acres of wilderness on federal lands.

Creates a 30,000-acre conservation area.

Designates a portion of the Green River as wild and scenic.

• Conveys more than 10,000 acres to the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, including an energy-producing site and land with resort development potential.

Gives Daggett County rights on open routes on Bureau of Land Management land outside of proposed wilderness and conservation areas.

Bishop said the agreement is a land-planning success because it was driven by the residents of Daggett County.

"This is almost like a microcosm or template for what we can do in the rest of Utah," he said.

Hunter and angler groups hailed the agreement as one that will protect prime outdoor recreation areas and a 14-mile section of the Green River.

Charles Card, Trout Unlimited's Northeast Utah Backcountry coordinator, said managing the Green River for fish, recreation and wildlife would maintain the high quality of fishing that anglers and Daggett County residents have known for years.

“If we get these protections locked in, current river users can rest easy, knowing that future generations will have similar experiences on the Green through A and B sections,” Card said. “We value the collaboration and are appreciative of the work that has gone into this plan from all parties involved. It’s encouraging to see this kind of progress and feel there have been great strides in protecting this fishery and native cutthroat streams in the Uintas."

Scott Groene, director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the willingness of people to stay at the bargaining table and eke out an agreement — despite the temptation to walk away — signifies an unprecedented willingness to go beyond ideology.

"It represents a change in how public lands are viewed," Groene said.

Mike Swenson, executive director of Utah Shared Access Alliance, said the agreement will forge predictability for off-road enthusiasts that has been badly needed.

"It is about time," Swenson said. "This is just a first step for us."

Bishop said the Daggett County land agreement will be included as part of his public lands initiative bill he plans to unveil in January to be worked on over the coming year.

Email: amyjoi@deseretnews.com, Twitter: amyjoi16

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