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IN THE NEWS: In our opinion: Daggett County shines with public-lands compromises

October 30, 2014

Deseret News editorial

Considering all the "players" involved and "fields" in play, one needs a scorecard to track progress with ongoing public lands efforts in eastern and southeastern Utah.

And the latest addition to that scorecard? A home run coming out of Daggett County.

First, a quick in-game update on the Bishop public lands initiative, bearing the name of Rep. Rob Bishop, the Utah congressman who has spent the last nearly two years trying to broker local land-use agreements. It's a search for public lands resolutions that the Deseret News dubbed "The Grand Compromise."

The initiative — a work-in-progress with county-by-county discussions and cooperations — is expected to be unveiled in final-draft form in early 2015. The initiative proposes solutions for some 18 million acres in the extreme eastern past of Utah, with possible wilderness designations reaching 2 million acres and creating well-defined areas for recreation, ranching, oil and gas development, mining interests, potash extraction and more.

The "players" represent dozens of local government entities, special-interest groups, businesses, corporations and the like — all with a vested interest in the public lands and their uses. It's something Utahns want to see successfully resolved.

Bishop's initiative allows compromise at the local level — the county-by-county compromises allowing for closest-level discussions unique to that area. In other words, what's good for Uintah County may be different than what works in Wayne County, rather than painting the entire region with one broad brushstroke.

Emery County, for example, lined up its public lands compromises more than a year ago, a model of prompt effort and cooperation. Other counties, such as San Juan, are on the other end, with invested participants unable so far to find much of a common middle ground. And still others, like Grand, are somewhere in the middle — seemingly reaching a cooperative summit one day only to struggle with a speed bump the next.

Meanwhile, Bishop says Obama administration officials are letting the processes continue while progress is being made, rather than have the federal government come in and with one fell swoop — a national monument designation for a big chunk of the lands — make a game-eliminating play resulting in definite and restrictive land uses.

Which brings us back to Daggett County, the state's least-populated county (meaning there's plenty of public lands to work with). Last week, the Daggett participants compromised in give-and-take fashion, including identifying some 100,000 acres (a fifth of Daggett's land mass) for wilderness and conservation designations, and another 7,000 acres for much-needed resort development.

Officials for the different entities and groups saluted the end result, as did Bishop, who said, "This is almost like a microcosm or template for what we can do in the rest of Utah."