By: Bianca Greeff, Graduate Assistant.
This year, International Mountain Day (December 11) arrived on the heels of Representative Jason Chaffetz (R) and Salt Lake City Mayor Jackie Biskupski’s testimony to Congress regarding the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act. If passed, the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act would designate 80,000 acres of the Wasatch as U.S. Forest Service land. This legislation is culmination of the Mountain Accord, a multi-year collaborative effort to protect and preserve the Central Wasatch Mountain Range.
If you, like me, are not familiar with the specifics of the Mountain Accord, take this holiday to catch up on what has been happening in our mountains close to home.
The Mountain Accord is a public process committed to protecting the 80,000-acre conservation and recreation ecosystem of the Central Wasatch Mountain Range, while accounting for its economic and recreational importance. Since beginning in 2014, the Accord process has brought 20 organizations: city governments, environmental watchdogs, ski managers, conservation groups, and 200 stakeholders together to create a plan.
Salt Lake City’s identity and climate are closely linked to the Central Wasatch Mountain Range. More than 500,000 residents rely on the mountains for their water, and many others for hiking, skiing, biking, solitude, and aesthetic wonder. The Central Wasatch Mountains are also an important feature of Salt Lake City’s economy. 5.7 million people visit the Central Wasatch Mountains each year (which can be more than 50,000 visitors on a peak day). By 2040, that number may be 7.2 million visitors. All this tourism places a strain on the delicate environment of the range.
The Mountain Accord came about as a way to manage these current needs and concerns while preserving the mountains and their resources for future generations.
The Accord hasn’t always enjoyed the united front shown by Rep. Chaffetz and Mayor Biskupski at their testimony. Below is a timeline of the collaboration and controversy that has surrounded the process:
2013: Stakeholders began a process of discussing the future of the Central Wasatch by examining four areas of concern: Environment, Recreation, Transportation, and Economics.
Jan. 21 – March 28, 2014: During this initial public and agency comment period, 958 comments were collected, open houses were held, in-person outreach was conducted, and participating organizations were able to comment. Here is the summary of the findings.
Feb. 2014: The Mountain Accord process is established to create an integrated, comprehensive, landscape-scale framework for the future of the Central Wasatch Mountains.
May 12, 2014: Existing condition reports and comments were approved by the Executive Board.
Feb. 2015: Input from the four areas of concern were turned into a cohesive report and distributed for public comments and concerns.
Aug. 3, 2015: The Accord agreement is signed by Governor Gary Herbert, the Executive Board members, and over 150 signatories.
July 11, 2016: Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz introduced the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act. The Act uses the Mountain Accord as a guideline to designate around 80,000 acres of U.S. Forest Service land including critical watershed, scenic ridge lines, treasured landscapes and recreation areas, while facilitating ski resorts to own more land in their established base areas.
Oct. 2016: Mike Edwards filed a complaint with the Utah attorney general’s office about the alleged violations of procurement laws by the Mountain Accord and Mayor Ben McAdams. The Cardiff Canyon Owners Association, landowners in Big Cottonwood Canyon, also filed a complaint that the Mountain Accord didn’t follow the Utah open meetings law.
Nov. 15, 2016: Rep. Chaffetz, Salt Lake City Mayor Biskupski, and Salt Lake County Mayor Ben Adams were in Washington D.C. promoting the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act. The Act is supported by Utah’s congressional delegation, and Governor Gary Herbert, Reps. Mia Love and Chris Stewart have co-sponsored the bill. They, along with Chaffetz, Biskupski, Adams, and other elected officials, were also in D.C.
So, what happens next? The Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act’s journey into law (or not) will be documented at its web home on congress.gov. You can also contact your representative to let them know your perspective.
It is easy to take for granted the intrinsic beauty of the mountains that surround us. Just as we rely on the Wasatch mountains, future generations in Salt Lake City will continue to rely on them. This year, I encourage everyone to appreciate the wonderful mountains we have around us, consider what they might look like for future generations, and educate yourself about legislation that impacts these mountains.