The Summit County Council on Wednesday approved a draft letter to the Governor’s office, with recommendations about the state’s effort to get a Utah-specific plan to manage the national forests.
But one council member voted against it, and his colleagues said they have major concerns about the proposal. They said while they want to have input to manage the forests against fire danger, they also don’t want to be co-opted into any state plan to undermine federal supervision.
The council passed a motion to send a draft letter to Kathleen Clarke the director of the Governor’s Public Lands Policy Coordinating Office (often called “Plipco” for short).
The dissenting vote came from council member Roger Armstrong.
The governor’s office is asking counties to join a petition to modify the Roadless Rule policy set by the federal government.
With the state asking the council for a reply by the end of the week, the council directed staff, in the letter, to emphasize their concerns that they don’t want a policy that opens up the forests to more energy or oil development. The final draft will be circulated among the council members, to be signed by chairwoman Kim Carson.
Council member Chris Robinson noted that last week he and Carson met with PLIPCO, Forest Service representatives, and conservation groups that want the county to do nothing—such as Save Our Canyons, the Wilderness Society and the Grand Canyon Trust.
Robinson reviewed the county’s position, set forth at that meeting.
“My takeaway from it was that the parade of horrible that they might conjure, are not going to happen in our county by doing the things which are in this plan. Which are the following three things. Either leave it in primitive if it was part of our proposed wilderness. Put it in forest restoration if its areas that we think that we want through the NEPA process to be able to get temporary roads. Or to change and conglomerate polygons under the fourth category which is the re-inventory.”
He said a restoration status would allow some temporary roads in order to clear out dead timber. He noted that Forest Service representatives want some flexibility.
“Well the forest service didn’t argue but gave examples of how its taken eight years in order to get an exemption to the roadless rule in order to do some project I forget where it was. Not much activity happens in these roadless areas because the bar is set so high even though there may be in the existing rules some exemptions for forest health.”
Robinson said the county should put forward their recommendations, despite what actions other Utah counties may want to take.
“There may be a lot of untoward consequences in other parts of the state. If say our compadres in another county were to say, ‘we want everything re-inventoried to no roadless rule.’ My takeaway from it is that those other counties are going to do what they’re going to do if our county doesn’t express our opinions the department of natural resources will come up with something that goes into the petition anyway. I think the approach like we’ve taken to send a letter to give it our best shot, is the proper approach.”
Meanwhile, council member Roger Armstrong said he is resisting the proposal. He noted what happened when the county worked with Rep. Rob Bishop’s Public Lands Initiative.
“Much like the PLI process, this is a process that’s intended to ultimately degrade and if possible repeal the roadless rule. We’ve seen what happened in the PLI process where we did meet with a variety of stakeholders and we came up with some very thoughtful initiatives that we wanted to see in those wilderness areas. In the end, they did what they wanted to do. It came out very different than what we proposed.”
He said the midterm elections may affect what’s happening in D.C., but Armstrong said he doesn’t like the direction of the plan.
“I do believe that in the end this will be a process that is pushed to again either repeal or substantially limit the roadless rule. With a new house it may be different for at least two years but that doesn’t’ stop the current administration from issuing executive orders that could aggravate it as well.”
Council member Doug Clyde said they can make their position clear to the state, but the danger of fire in the forests is very serious.
“I absolutely agree that you don’t have to scratch at this thing very deep to realize that it is just an attempt by the state to interfere with government control of federal lands. But the fire danger is real. I just think we should affirm that and if we can put a paragraph in there that says ‘and we don’t trust you, you scumbags’ that’s fine.”