Utah's proposed BLM wilderness areas feature heart-stopping scenery: big rivers booming in sheer-walled canyons thousands of feet deep; labyrinthine canyon systems etched into colorful sedimentary rock formations; forested plateaus ringed by 1,000-foot high cliff walls; isolated mountain ranges surrounded by canyons and desert badlands.
of the 5.7 million acres recommended for wilderness by the Utah
Wilderness Coalition are concentrated in southeastern Utah, where
numerous large BLM roadless areas lie contiguous to one another and
to the state's 2 million acres of national park lands.
Try to imagine it: a de facto wilderness
two-thirds the size of all national parks in the lower 48 states
taken together; a region of undeveloped public land as large as
Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts and Rhode Island
It is easy to understand why
environmentalists are passionate about this land. It is harder to
understand why there is such a vast discrepancy between the two
Utah wilderness bills.
I think this is because
two bills represent the values of the "Old" and "New" West.
For constituents of the New West, wilderness is
one of the region's most valuable assets. And the more, the better.
But the Utah congressional delegation's 1.8
million acre wilderness bill follows the belief that the
industrial, agricultural and residential development of public
lands is noble.
The Old West doesn't object to
wilderness. Ranchers, miners, loggers and others also appreciate
the region's natural beauty.
What the Old West
objects to is the obstruction, by wilderness designation, of
opportunities for economic development.
politicians are also under considerable pressure from energy and
According to the Federal
Elections Commission, 28 PACs, including Amoco, BHP Utah
International, Chevron, Exxon, Kennecott, Mobil, Peabody, Penzoil,
Phillips, Tenneco and Texaco, made contributions totaling over
$160,000 to members of the Utah congressional delegation between
1991 and 1994.
Developers support the
delegation's bill because it ends the uncertainty over what will be
protected as wilderness. It also blocks the BLM from recommending
more lands for wilderness through its "hard release"
Since nearly twice as much land is
now temporarily protected within BLM wilderness study areas as
would be designated wilderness by the Utah delegation's bill,
environmentalists have nothing to lose and everything to gain by
staving off what they see as a disastrous bill.