Last December, a task force of the Izaak Walton League of America wrote what appeared to be a league endorsement of the Snowbasin Ski Resort land trade near Ogden.
Officials of Wasatch-Cache National Forest were considering a request to trade 1,320-acres of forest land so the resort could expand. Conservationists lined up to oppose it, while pro-development types supported it.Suddenly, the "Public Lands Restoration Task Force, Izaak Walton League of America" entered the fray and agreed to the exchange. The league has 55,000 members nationally and is interested in preserving wildlife habitat.
In a press conference held in Salt Lake City and a letter to the Forest Service, the group's conditions for the endorsement were spelled out:
- Wildlife density would not suffer, with about 40 percent of the 1,320 acres kept undeveloped.
- Another 500 acres of private land that the resort's owner, Sun Valley Co., has near the exchange tract would remain undeveloped, to protect big game winter habitat.
The group sent a letter to the Forest Service saying the conditions were accepted by the owners.
"For purposes of clarification, PLRTF (the task force) is the public lands division of the Izaak Walton League of America on the national level," says the letter, dated Dec. 28, 1989. "Therefore, what is before you within these words reflects the official position of the Izaak Walton League with respect to the proposed Snowbasin land exchange, held within your jurisdiction."
Forest Service officials accepted the letter as part of the comments it received on the proposal. Recently the agency agreed to trade 695 acres.
But last week, Lew Ross, a league member who lives in Utah, telephoned to complain about the endorsement. The league does not support the swap, he said.
"The league in fact doesn't endorse anything until it goes before the entire membership," Ross said. That hasn't happened concerning the Snowbasin trade, he said. "They have no position whatsoever."
Maitland Sharpe, the league's associate executive director and the conservation director, reached at league headquarters in Arlington, Va., confirmed, "The national organization has taken no position, has no policy specifically concerning the proposed Snowbasin ski development or land transfer."
The task force was formed in the league's Oregon division. Its board is composed of league members and leaders in Oregon but expanded its activities to involve public lands issues in other Western states, he said.
"It focuses primarily on rangeland issues, with a special focus on efforts to restore and improve the riparian zone on both public lands and adjacent private lands," he said. According to Sharpe, the issues that involve the task force are mostly about livestock grazing.
"They (task force members) do not speak for nor commit the Izaak Walton League of America on matters of policy - public land policy or any other policy," he said.
Documents about the Snowbasin exchange have only just arrived at league headquarters, Sharpe said. "Our National Lands Committee hasn't even seen them. We are at the very starting point in terms of . . . studying this issue and working toward a national policy."
The league's national policy is set at yearly conventions attended by delegates from 400 chapters. When it considers a resolution, the league works at "sorting out the issue and determining what it would mean for the environment, in terms of both obvious and hidden impacts," Sharpe said.
"We have not gone through this process in respect to this project."
Sharpe talked with Patricia S. Honeycutt, executive director of the task force and one of the letter's signers, who then called the Deseret News. She conceded the letter was poorly worded.
What she should have written, she said, is the position was that of the task force, whose formal title is "Public Lands Restoration Task Force, Izaak Walton League of America." The sentence about the official position should have had the task force name in it as well as the rest of the title, she said.
Honeycutt said the letter supporting the trade was intended to show the position of the task force. "It's not an intentional misleading. It is probably inadequate wording for what I wrote, and I accept responsibility on that basis."
The task force reviewed previous positions that the league took, she said, and believes the endorsement is consistent with previous league policy.
Honeycutt said the trade as endorsed by the task force was designed to protect 500 acres of private land with critical wildlife habitat. She added she wasn't sure the area would never be developed without that agreement.
Asked with which league policy the position was in harmony, she said, "I'm referring to the multiple-use policy of the league itself." She said she would clarify the situation for the Forest Service.
The moral of this story: Make sure you always say exactly what you mean.