Dept. of Interior BLM, 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 the Emery County Commissioners.

Commissioner Kent Wilson addressed the council and audience with information from the recent Bureau of Land Management (BLM) meeting settling the litigation with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA). In this meeting, the proposed 35 miles of trail and road closures were executed. He reported that Greg Sheehan and Lance Porter from the BLM were both in attendance.

SUWA agreed to a settlement of 200 miles of trails on the San Rafael Desert located to the south of Green River and east of SR 24. The BLM will go through the process and reanalyze it using three alternatives: Class B, C or D roads, with B being the most conservative and D the most liberal. Wilson continued, stating that SUWA wants the most restrictive.

A seven month time period was allowed for the task, which will be under the Price Field Office’s jurisdiction. Wilson said there are no negotiations at this time, but he hoped during the seven months, these would be made available. He then called for action from Emery County to analyze every trail and be as proactive as possible as many of the trails show no use.

“Emery County needs to do some planning,” Wilson said.

Council member Les Wilberg questioned a justification, ”If the trails are not open, then how can we make tracks on the those trails?” BLM field office manager Kyle Beagley replied that these were outside of the planning area. There was discussion about this and a map was deemed necessary.

Wilson replied that today was the day to plan to make changes because as the population of the state of Utah and Emery County increases, the trails will be used and needed even more.

Council member Allinson agreed that Emery County’s personal evaluations are needed. “We need to look and see what trails have a purpose.”

The BLM was asked how engaged can Emery County be and Commissioner Wilson then remarked that Green River City depends heavily on tourism and they would be hurt the most by this. Or, on the other hand, they could benefit the most by open trails and roads.

Chairman Player then asked if the same thing is happening in other areas of the country. The reply was that this plan has set a precedence and needs to be done openly for all.

Councilman Wilberg then compared Emery County to a football field with only one player. Beagley replied that they are wading through ramifications because of this precedence setting. They have been asked to reevaluate 92 miles and plan to proceed, and it was stated that data is very important in this process.

They are in the beginning phase and accessing what this plan will look like, working with all cooperators. “What miles, what area and what routes are very important,” it was stated.

Brian Torgerson, School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, added they need road access to their lands and will go to court to keep these if necessary.

The buffer zone along the San Rafael River and airstrips were also considered and discussed. Commissioner Wilson concluded by noting that the Attorney General of Utah and PHLIPCO were also in attendance at the meeting and have given their support.

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