A 4 million acre difference

  • Utah wilderness

    Diane Sylvain
  • Dirty Devil River

    Ray Wheeler
  • Happy Canyon

    Ray Wheeler

Note: This article is a sidebar to one of this issue's feature stories, Utah hearings misfire.

1. The Book Cliffs: BLM and adjoining state and Indian reservation lands comprise a natural area of over 1 million acres spanning the Tavaputs Plateau and mile-deep Desolation and Gray canyons. It is one of the largest blocks of unprotected roadless land in the lower 48 states, and one of the richest wildlife areas in Utah.

H.R. 1500 protects 750,000 acres within 11 contiguous roadless areas.

H.R. 1745 protects only half as much land, leaving the remainder open to the mining of coal, tar sands, natural gas and oil. As with all areas not selected for BLM wilderness under H.R. 1745, development might also include increasing off-road vehicle use, disturbance of areas containing 1,000-year-old Indian ruins, and logging.

2. La Sal Canyons: Streams rising on the slopes of the La Sal Mountains near Moab have carved intricate canyon systems draining east and north into the 1,000-foot-deep gorges of the Dolores and Colorado rivers.

H.R. 1500 protects 160,000 acres surrounding the La Sals and Arches National Park.

H.R. 1745/S.884 protects 65,000 acres.

3. Greater Canyonlands: Two canyon systems unite at the confluence of the Green and Colorado rivers, where just 50 years ago Wilderness Society founder Bob Marshall identified a roadless area of 9 million acres. Today, one-fifth of Bob Marshall's 9 million acre Colorado River roadless area is protected within Canyonlands National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

H.R. 1500 protects an additional 500,000 acres surrounding the national park lands, including the Colorado River gorge downstream from Moab, the Green River in Labyrinth Canyon upstream from Canyonlands Park, and side canyon systems such as that of Dark Canyon, tributary to Cataract Canyon downstream from the park.

H.R. 1745/S. 884 designates 147,000 acres of wilderness.

4. White Canyon: White Canyon and its 95-mile network of side canyons sprawl across 85,000 acres of roadless BLM land surrounding Natural Bridges National Monument and linking it to Glen Canyon National Recreation area to the west.

H.R. 1500 protects an area 10 times larger than the national monument it surrounds.

H.R. 1745/S. 884 designates no wilderness.

5. Cedar Mesa/San Juan River: Along the north side of the San Juan river, below Mexican Hat, an extensive network of tributary canyon systems, including those of Comb Wash and Grand Gulch, cut deeply into the forested plateau known as Cedar Mesa.

H.R. 1500 protects all 400,000 acres of roadless BLM land in the San Juan River watershed, offering maximum protection to one of the world's largest and finest collections of prehistoric dwelling sites.

H.R. 1745/S. 884 designates one parcel of 51,000 acres as wilderness.

6. Glen Canyon: The canyon floor is entombed under Lake Powell, but its jewel-like beauty can still be witnessed within the 500- to 800-foot-deep side-canyons incised into Mancos Mesa on the east, and in the rugged slickrock terrain surrounding the 8,000-foot peaks of the "Little Rockies' to the West.

H.R. 1500 protects 168,000 acres of roadless BLM land bordering Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

H.R. 1745/S. 884 designates 97,000 acres of wilderness.

7. Dirty Devil Canyons: Between Hanksville and Lake Powell, the Dirty Devil river flows for 90 miles through a 300,000 acre canyon system with over 200 miles of side canyons.

H.R. 1500 protects all 263,000 acres of BLM land adjoining a 57,000 acre roadless area within Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

H.R. 1745/S. 884 designates 110,000 acres in two isolated fragments.

8. The Henry Mountains: 10 to 20 miles west of Glen Canyon, seven blue-green domes float like mirages above the jumble of flat-topped mesas, canyons, and badlands east of Capitol Reef National Park. These are the 7,000- to 11,000-foot-high peaks of the Henry Mountains.

H.R. 1500 protects 350,000 acres in six roadless areas surrounding the mountain range.

H.R. 1745/S. 884 designates 107,000 acres.

9. Escalante Canyons: H.R. 1500 designates over 350,000 acres of wilderness encompassing the entire 1,000-mile canyon system of the Escalante river and its tributaries, along with neighboring lands bordering Capitol Reef National Park.

H.R. 1745/S. 884 designates 184,000 acres.

10. Kaiparowits Plateau: Immensity and silence are the hallmarks of the three-quarter-million acre proposed Kaiparowits Wilderness, a region of stair-stepping cliff walls and forested bench lands deeply cut by canyons.

H.R. 1500 protects 700,000 acres in 11 roadless areas - a region larger in size than the state of Rhode Island.

H.R. 1745/S. 884 protects one roadless area of 121,000 acres.

11. The Grand Staircase: Between its headwaters in Bryce Canyon National Park and its confluence with the Colorado River at the head of the Grand Canyon, the Paria River descends a vertical mile through a slot canyon.

H.R. 1500 designates 270,000 acres of wilderness between Bryce Canyon National Park and the Paria Canyon/Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness downstream.

H.R. 1745/S. 884 designates 57,600 acres.

12. San Rafael Swell: 50 miles long, 25 miles wide, and 1,500 feet high, this dome-shaped uplift towers above the Burr Desert like a medieval fortification. Tilted plates of sandstone form its outer walls, while the interior has been sculpted by erosion into monuments, canyons and badlands.

H.R. 1500 protects 750,000 acres encompassing both the uplift itself and the colorful badlands which link it to Capitol Reef National Park and Thousand Lake Mountain to the southwest.

H.R. 1745/S. 884 designates less than 200,000 acres.

13. Greater Zion: The 200,000 acres of roadless BLM land surrounding Zion National Park contain six proposed wild and scenic rivers and streams within spectacular slot canyons, ecologically rich canyon riparian systems, and slickrock plateaus identical to those within the park.

H.R. 1500 protects all roadless BLM lands, including Parunuweap Canyon, Canaan Mountain, upper Kanab Creek, and the corral-colored sand dunes on the west slope of Moquith Mountain.

H.R. 1745/S. 884 creates three wilderness areas totaling 53,000 acres, and specifically authorizes the construction of a dam, with associated powerlines, pipelines, and roads, on the East Fork of the Virgin River within the Parunuweap Canyon Wilderness.

14. The Great Basin: Many of the 14 "island" mountain ranges recommended for wilderness designation in western Utah were once literally islands in prehistoric Lake Bonneville. Today they are havens of biological diversity surrounded by gleaming salt flats and mud-cracked desert playas.

H.R. 1500 protects 784,000 acres within 23 roadless areas scattered across western Utah's slice of the Great Basin.

H.R. 1745/S. 884 designates about 268,000 acres of wilderness in 10 roadless areas.

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