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Book Cliffs Small Area Plan
The Book Cliffs area spans southern Uintah County and Northern Grand County and beyond into western Colorado. Its boundary is described by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as “beginning in the northern desert shrub zone at about 5,500 feet in elevation and rises southward to about 8,500 feet in the aspen and fir zones.” The Uintah and Ouray Indian Reservation encompasses its western boundary; outside of that most of its range is managed by the BLM and the Utah State School & Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA). The Book Cliffs area is renowned for its “frontier mystique”, as it is only accessed by rural dirt roads, used for hunting and recreation. It is due to this remote location and limited access that the native wildlife and big game thrive here. The Book Cliffs are valued for the abundance of solitude, undisturbed habitat, and relatively well-preserved archeological sites.
Over the past three decades, the idea of a highway through the Book Cliffs has been widely and thoroughly debated in Grand County. Since it was first proposed in the late 1980s, it has been a major election issue multiple times (most notably in 1992 and 2014), and in all cases the candidates opposed to the Book Cliffs highway have prevailed. Thus, the ideas that (1) the Book Cliffs should be managed for conservation purposes and (2) construction of a paved north-south corridor through the Book Cliffs ought not to be allowed are perhaps the most well-supported policy positions in Grand County.
The historic controversy over the Book Cliffs Highway has revealed over and over that Grand County citizens share common values tied to the Book Cliffs area. And while the land itself is not directly managed by the County, it is best practice to plan for all areas within the County and work with the respective land management agencies to coordinate efforts for a shared vision. For this reason, County Officials deemed it important to establish a small area plan for the Book Cliffs area within Grand County. This plan is an amendment to the 2012 General Plan and is an appendix of the General Plan 2030 (Update), adopted in the spring of 2022.
Values, Goals and Policies for the Book Cliffs Area:
VALUE: Healthy, intact ecosystems and wildlife habitat for big game
As the pressures of climate change increase (drought, heat, disease, invasive species, etc), it becomes more important than ever to conserve land supporting large wildlife populations and to manage intact ecosystems wherever possible. The Book Cliffs are remote, rugged, and exceptional habitat for elk, bison, big horn, and mule deer herds. East and Hay Canyons in particular, provide essential habitat and migration corridors for big game. These canyons also harbor scarce perennial water and provide critical winter range for big game. A high-speed, winding highway with inevitable collision fatalities is incompatible with acceptable management for wildlife in this essential corridor. (https://wildlifemigration.utah.gov/land-animals/corridors/).
GOAL: Manage Book Cliffs for healthy wildlife populations and protect connected, whole ecosystems and habitat.
Prioritize healthy keystone species populations.
Prioritize protection of riparian areas and water sources.
Prioritize protection of wildlife migratory routes, mating and lambing/calving areas, and essential habitat.
Support travel management planning that reduces the volume of motorized routes in riparian areas, nesting/calving habitat, and migratory corridors.
No new road construction where it would impact wildlife migration corridors or summer/wintering grounds.
Support creation of conservation easements for wildlife management on privately held land.
Support adaptive management strategies to reevaluate rangeland carrying capacities in relation to efforts to increase wildlife and big game populations, update grazing permits and stocking rates accordingly.
GOAL: Manage area for climate resiliency
Develop drought triggers and responses for rangelands.
Enhance the ability of drinking water aquifer watersheds to capture and infiltrate water.
Support land administering agencies in the effort to return wildland fire to the landscape in manners which mimic the ecological fire regimes endemic to the Book Cliffs.
Protect areas around springs and riparian areas for habitat.
No new fossil fuel development or leasing.
VALUE: Socio-Cultural resources, past and present
The Book Cliffs are home to some of the most stunning archeological sites, reflecting indigenous Puebloan tribes dating back thousands of years and more recently Uintah Utes. Many of these sites have been well preserved over the years, again due to limited access and the remote location. With increased access, via a paved highway, inevitably archeological sites would be exposed to increased vandalism. The region is also recognized for renowned wildland experiences particular to roadless areas. These areas provide an experience for those (horsemen/backpackers/hunters/ fishermen) that only 2% of public lands can provide.
GOAL: Protect petroglyphs/pictographs and other archeological and cultural sites
Support the retention and protection of archeological resources within Book Cliffs.
Support protection of the inscriptions of Euro-Americans during the westward expansion and settlement of the region.
No large-scale ground and/or rock face disturbing activities.
No new road construction that would increase incidences of vandalism or disturb or disrupt known cultural resources.
GOAL: Preserve opportunities for remote and uncrowded recreation and hunting
Manage the area for wilderness, roadless, and primitive backcountry experiences.
Do not increase paved access to the area.
Support efforts to “uplist” WSA’s in the Book Cliffs to congressionally designated Wilderness.
Support the retention of the roadless area, within the Book Cliffs.
VALUE: Balance use of public lands within the means of local services
The County supports the BLM’s capacity to manage the Book Cliffs area for multiple uses while balancing those uses with the public service capacities of local governments. Within the Book Cliffs area, many miles of County B roads are maintained by Grand County. With increased access to the area creating more traffic on County B roads, it will cause additional maintenance and costs that the County would have to bear.
GOAL: Support multiple-use management that is considerate of the administrative obligations of local governments and capacity of public service providers
Avoid actions that would increase maintenance needs of County B-roads.
Avoid actions that would significantly increase search and rescue, wildland fire management, or sheriff presence in remote areas.
GOAL: Address dust sources on public lands
Reclaim drill pads after production ceases.
Reclaim unused or redundant oil and gas roads.
No new road construction.
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