If dirt roads in southern Utah suddenly seem free of ruts, washboards and washouts, you can thank Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt.


Environmentalists believe Babbitt's recent announcement of a new BLM inventory of wilderness led to a flurry of illegal road work by county crews. For if roads exist, the Bureau of Land Management can't include those lands as potential wilderness. "This is malicious and mean-spirited and damn illegal and should stop," says Ken Rait of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.


Babbitt ordered the reinventory this summer after Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, challenged the secretary to find 5 million acres of BLM land in Utah that qualify as wilderness (HCN, 9/2/96). An earlier BLM inventory found 3.2 million acres.


Rait says he will be patrolling BLM lands looking for freshly graded roads that once were two-track routes or long-abandoned mining roads. Kate Kitchell, Moab district manager for the BLM, has also asked her staff to pay special attention to road work in Grand and San Juan counties.


When asked about the road-grading, San Juan County Commissioner Ty Lewis offered no details, other than saying, "Let's put it this way: They (the BLM crews) will be able to identify our roads." Kane County Commissioner Norm Carroll also conceded that the wilderness reinventory is "in the back of our minds."


*Jim Woolf