At a wilderness hearing last spring, Utah Rep. James Hansen challenged Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt to find 5 million acres of BLM land in Utah that qualify for wilderness designation.
Now that competing Utah wilderness
bills are dormant in Congress, Babbitt has taken him
The Interior boss has assembled "a small team
of career professionals' to conduct a partial wilderness
re-inventory. The team will evaluate those lands within the Utah
Wilderness Coalition's 5.7 million-acre proposal that failed to
qualify under the BLM's inventory, conducted in the late
"To date, both sides have been unable even
to agree which lands have wilderness characteristics," says Ken
Rait of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. "A re-inventory
should help move this contentious issues toward a resolution."
Utah's congressional delegation disagrees.
Hansen, along with senators Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett, called
Babbitt's move "pure politics," and accused the secretary of having
"a set acreage target." The delegation's bill asked for 1.8 million
"This is to simply decide what will
qualify, not to make a recommendation," says Don Banks of the BLM
office in Utah. He characterized the planned operation as
"ground-truthing with field personnel." The team will be led by Bob
Abbey, BLM's assistant director for Colorado. Work should begin
sometime in September.
"We need to put the
inventory question to rest," Banks said. "Something is needed to
move this process along. Right now, nothing's moving."