Utah Rural Summit 2003: A Roadmap for the Future

Editorial by Toni Thayer
Garfield County News


Last week, I attended the Utah Rural Summit 2003 held in Cedar City. This year’s theme was Collaborative Land Use Planning. The conference, designed primarily for attendance by Federal and State employees and elected officials, left a sour taste in my mouth, and it provoked strong emotions and deep thoughts.

As I listened to keynote speakers, including Gov. Mike Leavitt, unveil the future economy of the “New West” and participated in smaller workgroup training sessions, I began to wonder what this collaboration process was really about.

I thought it meant, “working together, especially in a joint intellectual effort,” as the first definition in Webster’s II dictionary. By the end of the first day, I was inclined to believe the collaborative process at this conference was closer to the second definition, “To cooperate treasonably, as with an enemy occupying one’s country.”

The speakers and activities made it apparent that the economic plan for rural Utah was pre-ordained and that the purpose of the conference was merely to educate and enroll participants into the plan. Any opinions or interests outside the narrow economic path proposed for southern Utah were viewed as adversarial, or as one presenter said, “difficult people.”

Gov. Leavitt opened with his philosophy to “plant seeds for future generations, give it all we have, and leave rural Utah a little better than we found it.” He explained further, “We need to be generation planners, thinking about the future and how to position ourselves.”

Leavitt laid out his strategies for two major Utah issues, control over the RS 2477 roads and wilderness area designations.

For the roads issue, Leavitt proposed immediate action through a moderate approach because “the enemy of progress is extremism . . . If we can’t drive a car or truck down the road or show clearly that the road was in existence before 1976, we aren’t claiming it.”

Leavitt wants to bring the roads discussion from Washington, D.C. to the local Federal land managers. In his view, by working cooperatively with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) “to make it happen”, the counties can get the first set of roads through the new disclaimer of interest process. He acknowledged that there would be some litigation in the future over various roads that could not be agreed upon by the counties and BLM.

Leavitt also proposed moving forward and accepting the Federal wilderness designation for Utah’s 3.2 million acres already in Wilderness Study Areas. He wants to investigate another 6 million Utah acres as possible wilderness even though the courts have determined that the Dept. of Interior illegally included this acreage in their handbook under Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt.

According to Leavitt, now that outdoor recreation is such a big part of Utah’s economy, we must provide “good places for them to golf, camp, and roads to get there.” His theory is to develop it into an “economic ecosystem”.

The Governor envisioned the “changing nature of our rural economy” and a future for Utah that revolves around partnerships between counties, the State, and the Federal government. His dream is to “brand ourselves to the world as being the outdoor recreation capital of the world.”

When queried about traditional southern Utah economic interests such as mining, grazing, and timber, Leavitt said the enemy of these interests was uncertainty or a lack of certainty in the future for them. One government employee also referred to “phasing out certain industries” in a conference training session although he would not name those industries that they’re leaving by the wayside.

This made me wonder what might be phased out in some of their future plans. Perhaps it will be private property rights as indicated by another government employee’s question to me, “You support preserving private property rights over an endangered species?”

My response was that as a true environmentalist and an American I believe we have the technology to reduce consumption and thereby conserve resources, provide good paying jobs, and protect the environment all at the same time.

On my way back home from this conference, I drove over Cedar Mountain. With a chemtrail-laden sky above and surrounded by dead trees from insect infestation, I stopped to take pictures of the ghastly scene.

I felt an ironic twist as I realized that these dead lands were a result of the philosophies of the very land managers and environmentalists at the conference who were teaching us their preservation and protection techniques.

As I set off for home once again, I wondered how these people felt qualified to come from their urban lifestyles into rural Utah with a plan for the area’s economic future and with land management styles that result in dead and dying landscapes.

I wondered why they wanted to kill the land and what gave them the right to shackle rural Utah residents to a life of serving tourists from around the world. And, then, I wondered why we, the area’s residents, are allowing this outside control that’s killing our natural environment slowly, but ever so surely, along with the rural spirit of life.


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