Utah, feds sign agreement over future management of Forest Service lands

Posted at 11:40 AM, May 22, 2019
and last updated 2019-05-22 20:07:15-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Gov. Gary Herbert and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue have inked a cooperation deal over future management of Forest Service lands.

But the deal does not give Utah an exception to the "roadless rule," that would allow the state to move in and clear out dead timber or underbrush that could fuel a catastrophic wildfire. Instead, the agreement basically ensures both the state and federal government keep working together on future projects under the principle of "shared stewardship."

"One plus one equals more than two," Secretary Perdue told a crowded room of lawmakers, rural Utah officials and agency staffers. "Working together, state authorities have more nimbleness, they've got more boots on the ground here that they can operate with, joining and using those assets of the U.S. Forest Service."

The governor has long complained about the state being blocked from clearing out potential wildland fire fuels. Last year, he told FOX 13 he had been having conversations with Secretary Perdue about it.

The impacts of the stewardship agreement could mean joint work on Forest Service land to help prevent wildland fires or improve ski resort areas that operate on federal land.

But Wednesday's meeting on Capitol Hill did not yield an exception to the "roadless rule" like other states have gotten. Secretary Perdue told reporters that was still being considered.

"It's a pledge to work together," Gov. Herbert said.

Rep. Scott Chew, R-Jensen, said he was encouraged by the signing of the agreement. But he wanted to see more concrete steps taken.

"We seriously need some action. And I hope this is opening the door," he told FOX 13. "Whether it has or not? I guess time will tell."

Ashley Soltysiak of the Utah Chapter of Sierra Club also didn't see much in the agreement, but for obviously different reasons.

"The plan really isn’t terribly specific and certainly doesn’t answer our big looming question about roadless management," she said.

Read the agreement here: