Some members of the Summit County Council Wednesday were apprehensive, when they were asked to support an effort, from the Governor’s office, petitioning the U.S. Forest Service to allow a policy, tailored for Utah, to more actively manage the forests.
While the changed policy would ostensibly reduce fire hazards by clearing out deadwood, Council member Roger Armstrong said he’s concerned that it might be “another plank” as he said, in the state’s attempt to take control of federal land.
Council members also rejected language from the state that would allow for mineral extraction.
According to the county staff, the proposal came from Governor Gary Herbert’s Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office.
The state is asking the 29 Utah counties if they want to petition the federal government to modify a 2001 Roadless Rule, set by the departing Clinton Administration, which restricted management of the forests.
The proposal is asking the county to review its Roadless Areas, determine if they should keep their current status, or if they should be considered under four other possible options.
Two of the options were labeled “Forest Restoration” or “Forest Stewardship”. Council member Armstrong said he was wary, because of what’s allowed under that language.
“We have commercial timber harvest its not just, this was for health reasons only, so I’ll give them that.” Armstrong continued, “Mineral extraction allowed, motorized travel limited to existing routes. The stewardship areas we see mineral extraction again. Motorized travel is subject to a forest travel plan, I don’t know what that looks like and then we start seeing in the re-inventory, these are all roadless areas, and we see I think in some of the descriptions later expanded recreational uses up there for motorized recreation.”
County staff planner Sean Lewis agreed that the provisions from the state aren’t ideal for Summit County, but he said they need to work within what the state has given them.
“That said, the states going to do what their going to do whether Summit County agrees with it or not.” Lewis explained, “From staff’s perspective we felt let’s play along because if we don’t provide a recommendation within their—we can provide a recommendation and say this is how we want our wilderness areas to be categorized but here’s a whole letter of concerns that we have. I’m happy to provide that analysis per the councils direction but the states going to look at our categorical areas and say ok this is what they want this is how we’re going to do it or they’re going to change it to what they want to do anyway.”
“I think that’s right” Armstrong interjected, “I prefer that we stay true to ourselves and our values as it relates to our wildlands and that we tailor our recommendation back.”
“I’m perfectly ok with that” Lewis replied, “but we still have to tailor it within the definitions that have been provided.”
Armstrong said it’s important to leave in place the restrictions favored by the county.
Council member Glenn Wright said the county should advocate local control.
Lewis said they’re on the same page with Kamas District Ranger Dano Jauregui.
“We want to manage the forest effectively.” Lewis said, “He wants to manage the forest effectively because we understand that he joked about the Wasatch Cache being called the asbestos forest by other rangers because it hasn’t caught on fire in a long time. We haven’t had a catastrophic fire and with the amount of fuel and dead and dying timber that’s there we’re prime for a catastrophic fire. The more we can do with controlled burns, extracting what’s already dead and dying we can limit the impacts from that with good forest management practices.”
The council generally agreed they’re moving to the “Restoration” option, but with no mineral extraction, and limits on motorized activity and new roads.
Council member Kim Carson also said they still want to leave open the possibility they can reach an agreement with Rep. Rob Bishop under his old Public Lands Initiative plan, which expanded wilderness in Summit County by 29,000 acres.
“I want to make sure areas that we’re opening up aren’t part of that.” Carson continued, “Personally, I would still like to move that proposal forward and see if it might be viable as just a one county option.”
A public hearing on the Roadless Rule change is set for next week, September 19th. The Council is being asked to make a decision by September 26th.