SALT LAKE CITY — A marathon legislative meeting Wednesday on the management of the Wasatch canyons ended with a vote by lawmakers to craft their own plan to safeguard the watershed and natural resources of a forested area visited each year by more than 10 million people.
The Commission for the Stewardship of Public Lands voted unanimously to pursue state legislation establishing management strategies for the central Wasatch canyons.
"We will build on the strength and momentum of what has already been done," said Rep. Keven Stratton, R-Orem, who is commission co-chairman.
Stratton said the commission will take the language in the proposed Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Act — a federal designation sought by the Central Wasatch Commission — and develop strategies that address traffic, wildfire and other issues facing the canyons.
The commission will also pursue legislation that prohibits another government entity in the state from seeking a federal designation.
Afterward, Central Wasatch Commission spokeswoman Lindsey Nielsen said the Central Wasatch Commission — which she emphasized collectively represents 1.2 million area residents — will continue to work with Utah's congressional delegation on the proposed designation.
She added that commission leaders are willing to meet with lawmakers at any time to discuss the canyons' proposal.
"We welcome those conversations."
The public lands commission spent four hours hearing from both proponents of the 80,000-acre designation in the canyons and critics who say another layer of federal oversight is unnecessary.
Carl Fisher, executive director of Save Our Canyons, urged support of the proposed legislation, stressing it invokes necessary protections for the canyons for generations to come.
He added that the designation would help with management of the forest, not hinder it.
Lawmakers, however, worried that a new designation would hamper forest management when it comes to wildfire risk and watershed protection.
Rep. Ken Ivory, R-West Jordan, was particularly critical of ceding more control to the federal government when it already lacks the resources to manage the acreage it has.
Pointing to an earlier presentation the commission heard on Forest Service fuels management, Ivory said the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache National Forest has a million acres in projects ready to go but lacks the funding.
Salt Lake County Councilman Jim Bradley, who sits on the Central Wasatch Commission, said the proposed legislation represents the most significant, cooperative planning effort tackling canyons management during his 18-year tenure in office.
"Salt Lake County is fully in support of the Central Wasatch Commission."
Others criticized the legislation, asserting it lacks consensus and grew out of the "flawed" Mountain Accord process.
Rep. Kim Coleman, R-West Jordan, told the commission it should kick everyone out of the room for a private conversation among themselves.
After a pause, she noted she was joking — but said the Mountain Accord process did just that.
Mountain Accord was sued over violation of the state's open meeting law, which a judge said the body needed to follow. A settlement is pending.