“Bad process usually leads to a bad outcome, and the shocking lack of transparency and public engagement is pointing to a disastrous result for Utah’s forests,” said Paul Spitler of The Wilderness Society. “If changing forest management is truly good public policy, as the state claims, then why are the proposals being developed behind closed doors with no meaningful public review or scientific scrutiny?”
The state is gearing up to change the federal Roadless Rule, which for two decades has protected four million acres of Utah’s untracked backcountry forests. The state’s process has been deeply flawed, according to statement from The Wilderness Society. “The State of Utah Public Lands Policy and Coordination Office has not made any proposed management changes public and, apparently, will not do so until the petition is submitted. A public records request to the office yielded strikingly little information about what, exactly, the state plans to propose for public forests in Utah,” the group said in a statement.
The public lands office also asked county commissioners in each of Utah’s 29 counties to recommend changes to forest management. Public record requests to find out what, in fact, these counties are recommending went months unanswered. Some counties never responded. One county attempted to charge hundreds of dollars to fulfill the request, according to allegations from the Wilderness Society.
“The counties that did respond paint a troubling picture: poorly advertised and attended meetings (if they held public meetings at all), and shocking recommendations that would strip protections for forest lands across the state. One county, for example, had exactly one public comment on its proposal—from the chair of the Republican Party committee. Another proposed—with very little public input—to eliminate all protections for 86 of 95 roadless areas.
“If this is supposed to be a transparent process that involves public input, it’s off to a really poor start,” said Alex Schmidt, campaigns coordinator with Save Our Canyons. “Governor Herbert’s fast-tracked petition is limiting participation from people who have great insight about the forests near their communities. Opening roadless areas to logging and road building will alter habitat, impact drinking water and diminish recreation opportunities, not solve our wildfire issues.”
Worse yet, the environmental groups allege, the state is moving forward with a public lands proposal that is not based in science and is misleading the public about what it actually does. The state’s proposal would worsen wildfire risks in Utah, jeopardize drinking water for millions of Utahns, and risk millions of acres of protected public lands that will now be open to commercial logging and other industrial uses.
“This process got off on the wrong track. The Wilderness Society and Save our Canyons requests Gov. Herbert get on the right track for the health and safety of all Utahns who love their public lands so dearly. We are requesting that Governor Herbert provide a more transparent public process that includes an opportunity for public review and comment on a roadless area petition before it is submitted to the Forest Service.”
The groups also ask Herbert to establish a scientific advisory team to provide credible, peer-reviewed science to guide forest management, and to meaningfully engage stakeholders and incorporate stakeholder feedback.
“We’re surprised that Governor Herbert would waste taxpayer dollars and resources asking the federal government to change a rule that has protected Utah’s public lands for two decades. These lands play a vital role in the state’s recreation economy and are gems for every mountain biker, hiker and endurance runner and horseman. We ask Governor Herbert not to submit a petition to the Forest Service, but first ask his constituents what they want to see happen with their public lands,” the groups stated.