I couldn't agree more with you that Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt was perceptive enough to know he was taking on a no-win challenge as secretary of Interior (HCN, 5/1/95). In that regard, I would like to address a misconception about rural politics in Utah.
It is easy to point toward county governing bodies as throwbacks to the days when cattlemen ruled the West, but Grand County, Utah, is one example of how the voice of reason rings loud and clear but is ignored by organizations as diverse as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and the Western Association of Land Users.
The Grand County Council, a seven-member governing body, held three public hearings, as requested by Utah Gov. Leavitt, to make a recommendation for wilderness designation in the county. They posted maps, the hearings were well attended, written comments were accepted. The result of that undertaking was a recommendation of more than 200,000 acres, a figure greater than the total proposed by the BLM in their final EIS for Grand County. Was anyone happy? I think that the average citizen of Grand County was happy, but the Western Association of Land Users and SUWA screamed foul. Shades of the Babbitt dilemma?
Let's acknowledge some of the accomplishments and ongoing efforts of the Grand County, Utah, governing body during the past two years regarding environmental issues: It stopped the costly and controversial construction of the Bookcliffs Road; assisted The Nature Conservancy in obtaining some irreplaceable property along the Colorado River, known as the Mayberry Orchards, a controversial decision for which they were and still are criticized; welcomed The Nature Conservancy's purchase and development of the Matheson Wetlands Preserve, the only wetlands on the Colorado River in the state of Utah; participated in a cooperative effort with the BLM in developing a management plan for a sensitive, but highly impacted area known as the Sand Flats Initiative (Americorps was integrated into this innovative plan due to county council efforts - in particular Councilman Bill Hedden); participated actively in the creation of a Canyon Country Partnership which involves local, state and federal land-management agencies, cooperatively working toward problem-solving through face-to-face dialogue; and adopted changes in existing zoning and subdivision ordinances allowing Planned Unit Developments as an option to standard practices in order to help preserve open spaces.
These things were accomplished by people possessing common sense, elected by people with common sense. Some of these projects were pushed forward despite tacit opposition from well-known environmental groups.
If someone needs to bash county commissioners, be specific as to issues and counties involved. "Don't you see? That's the wager I'm making - that the West is ready to protect the federal land itself," Bruce Babbitt said to Ed Marston. I'm betting with your Mr. Babbitt. Thank you for your endorsement of the voice of reason, even in the backward West.
Paul J. Menard
The writer is a biologist and former county commissioner in Grand County.