The recent defense of the Utah counties' recommendations for Utah BLM wilderness by former Grand County Commissioner Paul Menard (HCN, 5/29/95) deserves a response.
The Utah congressional delegation told Utah's county commissioners they could decide how much Bureau of Land Management wilderness should be protected. The ensuing recommendation process was a sham and the results were, as the Salt Lake Tribune editorialized, a "most extreme anti-wilderness position."
Despite the popular yammering that local people know the land best, many county commissioners have never visited the wilderness located within their county. In some cases field work was conducted by buzzing past in helicopters and planes. Wild claims of phantom roads were substituted for on-the-ground inventories.
In the end the counties recommended that 994,414 acres of the 5,700,000 acres of Utah wilderness be protected and the other 83 percent be damned. The four most southeastern Utah counties, Garfield, Kane, San Juan and Wayne, recommended flushing 2.8 million acres of the 3.1 million acres of wilderness: 91 percent of the wild country would go unprotected. These counties recommended zero wilderness for Dirty Devil Canyon, Grand Gulch, White Canyon, Parunuweap Canyon and Muddy Creek.
Paul Menard suggests that Utah elected officials can be trusted to take care of the land. With a few exceptions, that is flat wrong. The Utah senators and representatives intend to pass a bill this Congress to open millions of acres of BLM wilderness to dams and drill rigs. The canyons will be lost if the wilderness issue is resolved by Utah politicians.
It is now up to those who live outside of Utah to convince their congressional representatives to support the HR 1500, America's Redrock Wilderness Act, which would protect Utah's 5.7 million acres of BLM wilderness.
Cedar City, Utah
The writer works for the nonprofit Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.