« Return to this article

Know the West

No takers for wilderness trip

  Last month, Utah Gov. Mike Leavitt tried a consensus approach to resolving the state's rancorous wilderness debate: He suggested a camping trip, but no one wanted to come.

Leavitt invited environmental leaders, county commissioners, federal land managers, ranchers and coal miners to eastern Utah. They would visit proposed wilderness areas on Bureau of Land Management land and talk about how to keep some of the land roadless and wild.

But wilderness advocates said they won't be roasting marshmallows with the governor anytime soon. "We have a cordial but fundamental disagreement with the process," says Ted Wilson, a former Salt Lake City mayor who serves on the board of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Wilson says SUWA and the Utah Wilderness Coalition's other 147 members want a single, statewide wilderness bill that deals with all 5.7 million acres in their proposal, including 1.3 million acres within the new Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

But wilderness supporters aren't Leavitt's only worry. County commissioners and members of Utah's congressional delegation, unsure that the camping trip idea will work, have not yet given it their full support. Still, Leavitt remains optimistic. Wilderness designation "is not an uncomplicated problem," he says. "It is one I am continuing to work on."

*Jim Woolf