The November 2013 Bishop Staff Report has no concrete proposals regarding Utah’s public lands and the Grand County Council minutes of May 17, 2013 and Oct. 15, 2013, at which the Utah Public Lands Initiative was discussed, are not as yet online. This leaves individuals with only the option of making general comments, or flooding the council with lists of favorite parcels for the purpose that is closest to our hearts – be it recreation, development, wilderness or minerals extraction.
As the Bishop staff report makes clear, many of the interest groups participating in the process are committed to ideological positions regarding public lands, not to what would be best for Grand County. I urge the county council to seize the opportunity to step away from theory, ideology and abstract ideas and take a very practical approach, based on the ground, parcel by parcel.
This is clearly a major and complex undertaking with far-reaching implications for Grand County’s future. Adequate resources/budget must be available in order for the county to do a responsible job. The county would not contemplate revising the Grand County General Plan, which impacts only about 5 percent of the county’s land area without adequate budget and professional support. Last time the General Plan was revised, the county budgeted $80,000 and hired expert consultants for the task. This major planning project concerning 72 percent of the county’s land area requires at least this level of support and resourcing. Taxpayer funding for this effort could be augmented by seeking contributions to the county from the various interest groups and foundations concerned with this effort, as long as there were no strings attached to the donations and the county retained control of the process.
I recommend an approach that starts with the most expansive and restrictive proposal for the designation of public lands (e.g., SUWA’s wilderness proposal) and examines each parcel with regard to its suitability for wilderness, motorized and non-motorized recreation, mineral extraction and other development. This should be accomplished with the assistance of a consultant or consulting firm working for the county that can provide advanced GIS capabilities and other support so that maps clearly depicting the various possible uses of each parcel can be superimposed upon each other. Those parcels for which there are no conflicting uses, if any, could then be recommended for that designation, including multiple use. For parcels with two or more conflicting possible uses, the council would then recommend a designation.
After this analysis is completed, field trips should be organized so that the council, interested citizens and interest groups have the benefit of on-the-ground experience before a decision is made.
I urge you to continue the Grand County tradition of extensive public discussion and allow locals to respond to concrete proposals for the management of public lands in Grand County before any revisions to the existing wilderness/land-use plan are adopted and final recommendations for Rep. Bishop are made. Only with this kind of process can Grand County avoid being played by interest groups. Only with this kind of process can the Utah Public Lands Initiative hope to get the votes in congress to pass, let alone with hard release language that some desire.
Finally, as I hike, four-wheel, boat and bike in the county, I find poor regulation of mineral development by the state and access issues created by private landowners to be significant problems. The continued state permitting of natural gas flaring has made Dead Horse Point State Park look at night like something out of “Blade Runner.” State School and Institutional Trust Land Administration sales of lands to private parties without any consideration of the impacts, including access to public lands, has made large tracts of prime recreation (hunting and hiking) land inaccessible to ordinary county residents.
Bob Greenberg has been a Moab resident for 38 years. He was elected to the County Council in 2006 and served one term. He currently serves on the Grand County Airport Board.