BLM ask county to consider
taking over White Hills
By Rhett Wilkinson
MANTI—Sanpete County Commissioners talked with the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last week about turning the White Hills outside Mayfield into a recreation area.
There remained an open question of whether the BLM or the county would take ownership of the property.
Near the end of a work meeting on Tuesday, Dec, 1, Sue Fivecoat, a BLM field station manager, suggested the county could come to the BLM with “an application of some kind” to take possession of the property or the BLM could continue to own the hills “with a lot of … support from the county.”
Another, possibly simpler strategy, Fivecoat said, would be for the commissioners to work with Utah members of Congress to pass a bill transferring the White Hills to the county.
The White Hills are a cluster of steep, rocky hills west of Mayfield. Officially, ATVs are not allowed, but people frequently ride there anyway, which has resulted in creation of numerous trails. The defacto use of the area for ATV riding is the main reason the BLM is considering designating White Hills as a recreation area.
A major concern for the BLM with making the hills a recreational area is preservation of plants, Fivecoat said.
“If we could protect the plants,” with the cooperation of the county, the hills could be redesignated as a recreational area, Graydon Bascom, a BLM outdoor recreation planner, told the commission.
There was considerable discussion of the possibility of congressional transfer of White Hills from the federal government to the county so the county wouldn’t have to deal more complicated procedures for acquiring the land directly from the BLM.
“If they do a congressional bill, we don’t even get involved with that,” Fivecoat said. “They say this piece of property belongs to the state or the county.”
Commissioner Steve Lund said Sen. Mike Lee is in a position to get language transferring the land to the county in a bill moving through Congress.
At the end of the meeting, Fivecoat asked the county for help, in the meantime, with “unauthorized activity,” adding that the BLM won’t have any resources to patrol for illegal activity next spring.
She also said that the BLM doesn’t have the “resources,” “desire” or ability to prepare an environmental assessment in order to put up fences around the hills.
As was discussed in the meeting, people already use the hills for illegally recreational purposes. The website DirtBikeUtah.net features White Hills as an off-road trails destination.
Commissioner Scott Bartholomew said the commissioners could put up a sign saying the area is restricted and he could talk to Sanpete County Sheriff Brian Nielson about sending an officer to the hills on weekends.
Fivecoat said “unless there was a contractor involved,” making the hills into a recreational area is a six- to eight-year “proposition.”
She also said that in terms of where to go from the meeting, hopefully in the next couple of months, the BLM would get more information from its area botanist.
Commissioner-elect Reed Hatch joined the meeting in progress. Bartholomew told him that the parties were trying to “work out a deal” to make the hills into a recreation area.
“It is already,” Hatch said.
In order to convert the White Hills to a recreation area, Fivecoat said she and Bascom, with the commissioners, would need to decide whether the BLM or the county would pay for a required environmental assessment. Either way, it would be expensive. she said.
When Sunderland asked about moving forward with letting the BLM run the hills as a recreational area, Fivecoat replied, “Off the top of my head, it would be better if it was managed locally.”
“It’s so far removed from our larger tracts of land, and it’s honestly hard to manage and keep on top of,” Fivecoat said.
“I have one law enforcement ranger who covers 2.1 million acres,” Fivecoat added. “As far as it being here locally and the county enforcement, you probably have more” resources.
“I’m sure we do,” Sunderland said.