Date: January 22, 2009
Brian Cottam, Associate Director
Southern Utah University Office of Regional Services
CEDAR CITY — The U.S. Bureau of Land Management is expected to begin the arduous process of updating the Resource Management Plan for its Cedar City field office in the next two years, and Iron County will be prepared, thanks in part to a cooperative effort between Southern Utah University’s Office of Regional Services and the Iron County Commission.
In early 2008, Regional Services began working with the County Commission to hire a Natural Resource Management Specialist and begin crafting an Iron County Resource Management Plan.
That effort got a big boost in July 2008 when the county, with the assistance of Regional Services, hired Michael Worthen, an Iron County native with 30 years of federal resource‐management experience, as its Natural Resource Management Specialist.
“We want to be proactive,” Iron County Commissioner Alma Adams said. “We don’t just want the BLM to tell us how things are going to be; we want to have our own county resource plan in place and work with the BLM on implementing it.”
Adams added that Iron County “wants to be a major player in guiding the new program.”
And Worthen’s background and experience makes him the man to get it done, Adams said. Worthen was born in Panguitch and raised in Parowan, where his father was the Iron County trapper for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
He attended the College of Southern Utah (now SUU) before earning a wildlife management degree at Utah State University. After graduation, he served the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Services, starting as a wildlife technician. In later years, he was promoted to state director in Idaho and California.
From 1995 until his retirement in 2008, he was the APHIS regional director for the western United States, headquartered in Colorado.
During that time, he worked closely with the ranching and farming communities, and on human health and safety issues involving wildlife.
“My primary thrust was protection of agriculture,” Worthen said, “and doing that required a lot of coordinated effort with the various federal, state, and local governments.”
In addition to initiatives to prevent rabies and West Nile virus, he also worked on predator control to keep wildlife away from livestock.
When Worthen retired in January 2008, he had 30 years of experience in wildlife services. He was planning a quiet retirement when he met Adams at a funeral.
“I hadn’t seen Alma for 35 years,” Worthen said, “and he asked me what I’d been doing. I told him, and he said he knew of a job that might interest me. I looked at it; it’s something I think I can at least get going.”
Worthen started work with Iron County on Aug. 1.
“My wife asked why I would want to do this after I’d just retired,” he said. “It’s a good challenge; it’s something new. I’m not aware of a county that is far enough ahead that they’re planning natural resource management to get ahead of the ball game.”
For the most part, the position consists of reviewing proposed land management projects in the county and associated planning documents, and actively participating with local, state and federal agencies to achieve goals based on the desired outcomes of Iron County’s planning efforts.
“That’s really the gist of it,” Worthen said. “In fairness to the BLM and the U.S. Forest Service, they do open their doors, but there has to be someone there who can sit in those meetings as a county representative and understand what’s going on. The commissioners don’t have time.”
He added that the county’s role is one of participation, collaboration and advisory vigilance.
“We’re not trying to dictate policy to the BLM or the U.S. Forest Service,” he said. “We just want a seat at the table so we can give our input about the disposition of natural resources in our county.”
Calling his new job “a unique situation,” Worthen said he believes it is “really worthwhile to give assistance to and provide formal plans for consideration by public land managers about where the county should be on natural resource management.”
Adams said the county couldn’t be more pleased with the results thus far.
“Mike is just marvelous,” Adams said. “He has so much background, especially with his experience with the federal government and in wildlife damage management. We’re just delighted to have him here.”
SUU’s Regional Services contribution made that possible, Adams said.
“Without their assistance, the county probably didn’t have the ability to move in this direction,” Adams said.
Wesley Curtis, SUU Vice President for Government Relations and Regional Services, created the concept of County Resource Management Planning when he served as State Planning Coordinator for Govs. Leavitt and Walker.
“When counties take the lead in resource management planning, it puts them in the driver’s seat and gives them a chance to get ahead of the planning curve, instead of always having to play catch‐up,” Curtis said. “We see this as a proactive approach with national implications.”
Regional Services is now participating with the new Iron County Natural Resource Advisory Council and providing planning assistance for the development of the Iron County Resource Management Plan.
“There’s a lot of attention from federal and state agencies, as well as rural counties across the state, on Iron County’s effort,” Curtis said. “This is a model we believe can be replicated and make a great difference in local government’s relationship and role with public lands management. Iron County is leading the way and should be commended.”
CUTLINE: Iron County Natural Resource Management Specialist Michael Worthen points out a trail located a mile west of Cedar City that he hopes will be part of the county’s Resource Management Plan. With the assistance of SUU Regional Services, the county hired Worthen in July 2008 to work with commissioners on crafting the plan.
PHOTO CREDIT: SUU Regional Services