In a Christmas gift to Utah environmentalists, Rep. James V. Hansen, R-Utah, unceremoniously yanked the Utah delegation's wilderness bill off the House floor Dec. 14. Hansen said he pulled the bill because there wasn't enough time to properly debate it.
There were other
interpretations. In Salt Lake City, the Deseret News and the Salt
Lake Tribune reported that the delegation bill was in deep trouble
with some Republicans, as well as with most Democrats.
The Tribune's Jim Woolf wrote that a Republican
leadership poll found that 43 to 46 GOP House members were either
undecided or opposed it. Lee Davidson of the News reported that 43
to 46 Republicans support the 5.7 million acres of wilderness
proposed by Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York.
Nothing in Washington is ever for certain, but it appears that no
wilderness bill will be considered by the House or Senate until
1996. One rumor had Speaker Newt Gingrich furious with Hansen for
asking for precious House floor time and then not using
Dave Lemmon, on the staff of Rep. Bill
Orton, Utah's lone Democrat, said Hansen's pulling of the bill was
"absolutely significant. They had no idea this would happen. If
they don't have the votes in the House, how can they possibly move
it in the Senate?"
Orton has drafted a bill
that both the delegation and environmentalists reject, but that
Lemmon says has support in the rural counties. He says it would
protect 1.2 million acres as core wilderness, surrounded by 3.1
million acres of national conservation areas. It protects the land
while allaying the fears rural areas have of wilderness, he
In the wake of Hansen's setback, Lemmon
says Orton will take his bill back to the rural counties in
But Hansen still has options. The moderate
Republican bloc that twice helped Democrats defeat the Interior
appropriations bill voted for it in mid-December even though it
still allows logging of Alaska's Tongass National Forest and keeps
California's new Mojave National Park from being managed as a park.
The moderates voted for it on the third try because the bill now
provides for a moratorium on the patenting of land under the 1872
Mining Law (HCN, 12/11/95).
model of giving away a few things to gain a core objective, Hansen
could drop a federal-state land exchange that favors Utah, in money
terms, by a 10-to-1 ratio; drop the bill's hard-release language;
and add a few hundred-thousand more acres of wilderness protection.
These concessions might earn it moderate Republican
But momentum may be against Hansen. The
bill has become a lightning rod, and the 20 million acres of Bureau
of Land Management land in Utah is now a national issue, like
Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. On the day Hansen pulled
his bill, USA Today editorialized against it. Given the national
publicity, representatives may be hearing about Utah's beauty from
constituents over the Christmas break.