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Scott G Winterton, KSL, File

Utah lawmaker seeks state oversight of federal land designations

By Amy Joi O'Donoghue, KSL  |  Posted Jan 15th, 2018 @ 8:21pm

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SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah lawmaker says he finds it ironic that as the state's top politicians were furiously fighting the creation of Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County, another federal land designation for the Wasatch Mountains had giddy support.

"I was surprised it didn't have people from both sides of the land debate upset," said Rep. Mike Noel, R-Kanab.

While the measure introduced in Congress in 2016 established 8,000 acres of new wilderness in the Wasatch Mountains, it also proposed swapping Forest Service land with four ski resorts for expanded development.

"I would think that would manage to upset both groups of people," Noel said.

The Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act, originally proposed by then-Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is being pushed once again by the newly formed Central Wasatch Commission and groups including Save Our Canyons.

Noel wants to rein in that pursuit with HB136, which would prohibit a government entity or its employees from lobbying or promoting a federal designation within Utah without first getting a resolution of support from the state Legislature.

"Those type of designations should go through the state Legislature and allow for all parties affected by that designation the right to have a say," he said. "The idea of creating legislation of a designation without support from the Legislature is wrong."

Minutes from the latest Central Wasatch Commission meeting indicate the federal land designation and land trades remain a top priority for local governments, including Salt Lake City, Sandy and Salt Lake County.

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said Noel's legislation ignores the tremendous amount of support behind Chaffetz's bill, which he said was developed over a two-year process with input from thousands of people.

"Ultimately we developed a local solution and recommendation to the challenges facing the Wasatch Canyons," McAdams said, emphasizing it had support of key lawmakers and the governor's office.

But not everyone was enamored with HR5718 to set aside protections for nearly 80,000 acres of land.

At its introductory oversight hearing in 2016 before the House Committee on Natural Resources' Subcommittee on Federal Lands, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., ripped into the measure for being heavy on considerations for environmental groups but light on concessions for solid transportation solutions.

McClintock was in Utah in early 2016 to hear complaints from Washington County officials on the 2009 public lands bill and said the two sounded eerily familiar.

"There were promises we found out weren't kept," he said, adding that the creation of 8,000 acres of new wilderness along the Wasatch Front makes fire prevention management problematic given the millions of canyon visitors.

Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said the bill remains unchanged since its introduction by Chaffetz in 2016.

"The congresswoman strongly supports collaborative efforts to preserve and plan for the future use of the Central Wasatch," said Love's spokesman, Rich Piatt. "However, key stakeholders have expressed substantive concerns with key elements of both the process and the product. The Legislature plays a crucial role in these plans and, as such, we will be working with them."

McAdams said local government should be free to pursue such federal designations for the Wasatch Mountains, especially to balance visitation with pressures like transportation and protecting a key watershed.

"It is important to have (the Legislature's) input, but not necessary to have their approval," he said.


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Amy Joi O'Donoghue, KSL
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