A Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance official says a Book Cliffs draft management plan is inadequate, but the Division of State Lands and Forestry maintains the document is the best tool to administer the lands.
Ken Rait, SUWA issues coordinator, said the document gives the public little or no substantive information about the nature of the land grant.In particular, Rait said, the document omits detailed information about the wildlife, rare plants and archaeological sites in the Book Cliffs area - 160,000 acres of school-trust lands in east central Utah.
The Book Cliffs are easily visible east of U.S. 6-191 between Price and Green River and north of I-70 between Green River and the Colorado border.
School-trust lands were granted to the state through the Utah Enabling Act to provide economic support for public schools and health-care institutions.
Karl Kappe, a Division of State Lands and Forestry official, says the document is intended to administer the lands in the best way possible. He said the division also wants to achieve maximum use of the area's natural resources, protect its ecological value and obtain the greatest possible monetary return by managing the lands more effectively.
Rait, however, said the division is under no legal obligation to obtain immediate economic return from the trust lands.
Environmentalists want the area to remain roadless, since in August 1975 it was designated that way because of ecological resources considered an integral component of the wildlife habitat in the Book Cliffs.
Rait said he is concerned that a change in the roadless designation and the construction of more roads, causing an increase in human activity, could detrimentally affect wildlife.
"We must preserve these areas as wilderness and we want the state to stay out," Rait said. "We just want to ensure the preservation of this special area."
Rait said if the division decides to change the current management strategy for the area, that division officials should conduct surveys to understand the basis for their decisions.
Written comments on the proposal were accepted until Nov. 3. The public is also encouraged to send written comments on the proposal to Book Cliffs GMP, Division of State Lands and Forestry, 3 Triad Center, Suite 400, Salt Lake City, UT 84180-1204. The deadline for written comments is Nov. 16.
Issues of the management plan:
- Preservation of 47,950 acres of roadless area of the Book Cliffs.
- Evaluation of mineral-lease options on the north part of the area, which is rich in oil and gas, bituminous sands, oil shale and coal.
- Development of recreational cabin sites in parts of the Book Cliffs, which is expected to increase public travel if a proposed road is built from Ouray, Uintah County, to Cisco, Grand County.
- Possible development of the Book Cliffs Initiative, a cooperative proposal of the Bureau of Land Management and the Division of State Lands and Forestry to acquire privately owned lands in the area to protect critical wildlife habitat, re-establish and enhance native fisheries and ensure public access and recreational opportunities. The proposal includes about 114,000 acres of mineral-rich trust land, most of which is included in the north part of the area.
- Consideration of possible sales or exchanges of land to benefit the school trust and identify areas suitable for disposition.
- Consideration of how proposed changes could affect the area's wildlife species, which include deer, elk, antelope, mountain lion, black bear, waterfowl, shorebirds, blue and sage grouse, golden eagles, numerous hawks, many small mammals and reptiles.