In May, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt announced a 1 million-acre wilderness proposal for the West Desert, the latest step in what he calls an "incremental approach" for BLM lands. But while his proposal is supported by the Department of the Interior, it's drawing criticism from county politicians, and it's only a small part of the 9.1 million-acre bill championed by a coalition of 35 conservation groups in Utah.
an aide to Leavitt, says the West Desert is a good choice for
wilderness designation because it has "no historically large
problems, no huge coal or mineral deposits and no serious
Still, there is an Air Force
Training Range on the Bonneville Salt Flats, and Weber County
Commissioner Ken Bischoff fears that tourists attracted to the
wilderness will complain about noise, creating opposition that
could lead to closing the base. Other commissioners say they'll
support the proposal if it includes a guarantee that the base will
stay open, a condition that the governor and Interior Department
have promised to include in a forthcoming congressional
The state's dominant environmental group,
the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, has not yet taken a stand on
the governor's proposal, but Heidi McIntosh, conservation director
for SUWA, says neither SUWA nor the Utah Wilderness Coalition
supports a piecemeal approach to protecting roadless areas.
Although Leavitt's proposal would not prevent future BLM wilderness
designations, McIntosh says the group would rather see passage of
an existing congressional bill, America's Redrock Wilderness Act
(H.R. 1732) designating 9.1 million acres of Bureau of Land
Management wilderness in Utah.
Brad Barber says
the proposal is still "in the concept phase" and the governor's
office is willing to work with SUWA. "There is no doubt that SUWA
has an influence on the future of the proposal."