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Know the West

SUWA's on the right track


Jim Stiles claims the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) changed proposed wilderness boundaries in order to accommodate a mountain bike race (HCN, 5/29/06: Clinging hopelessly to the past). His claim is completely false. I was in charge of drawing the boundaries for this part of the Utah Wilderness Coalition’s proposal, and I drew them based solely on off-road vehicle damage that extended beyond (and was unrelated to) the bike race route.

This might seem like a small point, but I think it is indicative of a larger issue — Jim’s tendency to stick stubbornly to his opinions even when the facts don’t support them. Jim’s complaint with SUWA and other wilderness preservation groups the past few years has been that "New West" recreation (like mountain biking) and rural sprawl have become threats to wilderness comparable to off-road vehicles and oil/gas exploration.

But throw a dart at a map of proposed wilderness in Utah, then visit that point on the ground and make a list of all the threats. You will probably see far more off-road vehicle tracks, grazing damage and oil exploration scars than you will see mountain bike tracks, footprints or new homes. Yes, "New West" threats are growing, but ORV abuse and oil exploration are growing at least as fast, and these "Old West" issues remain by far the biggest threats to wilderness.

Kevin Walker
Moab, Utah