BLM and SUWA Encroach on San Rafael Desert Roads and Trails
Photo by Jamie Swank
By Julie Johansen
Following the approval of the February 2022 meeting minutes, Chairman Rod Player opened the March Emery County Public Lands meeting with a statement, “Pray for Peace.” He then turned the time over to Emery County commissioners.
Commissioner Kent Wilson addressed council and the public with information on the recent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) meeting settling the dispute with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA). At this meeting, the proposed 35 miles of trail and road closures were executed. He reported that BLM‘s Greg Sheehan and Lance Porter were both in attendance.
SUWA has agreed to a settlement of 200 miles of trails on the San Rafael Desert located south of Green River and east of SR 24. The BLM will follow the process and reanalyze it using three alternatives: Class B roads, C or D, B being the most conservative and D the most liberal. Wilson went on to state that SUWA wants the most restrictive.
A period of seven months has been granted for the task, which will fall under the responsibility of the Price field office. Wilson said there were no negotiations at the moment, but he hoped that during the seven months these would be made available. He then called for action on Emery County to analyze each lead and be as proactive as possible, as many leads show no use.
“Emery County needs to do a little planning,” Wilson said.
Council member Les Wilberg questioned a justification: “If the trails are not open, then how can we make tracks on these trails?” BLM Field Office Manager Kyle Beagley replied that these were outside the planning area. There were discussions about this and a map was deemed necessary.
Wilson responded that today was the day to plan for changes, because as the population of Utah State and Emery County grows, the trails will be even more used and needed.
Council Member Allinson agreed that Emery County’s personal assessments were necessary. “We have to look and see which trails have a purpose.”
The BLM was asked how engaged Emery County could be and Commissioner Wilson then commented that Green River City is heavily dependent on tourism and they would be the most affected. Or, on the other hand, they might benefit the most from open trails and roads.
President Player then asked if the same was happening in other parts of the country. The response was that this plan set a precedent and should be done openly for all.
Councilman Wilberg then compared Emery County to a one-player football field. Beagley replied that they are floundering through the ramifications because of this priority setting. They were asked to reassess 92 miles and plan to continue, and it was stated that data is very important in this process.
They are in the start-up phase and are accessing what this plan will look like, working with all the cooperators. “Which kilometres, which area and which routes are very important,” he said.
Brian Torgerson, School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, added that they needed road access to their land and would go to court to retain it if necessary.
The buffer zone along the San Rafael River and the airstrips were also reviewed and discussed. Commissioner Wilson concluded by noting that the Utah Attorney General and PHLIPCO also attended the meeting and provided support.