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Know the West

Utah wilderness proposal rises and dies

  The Utah wilderness bill is dead again, but not without a struggle. In mid-March, Alaska Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski sent the Utah delegation's controversial plan opening 2 million acres of southern Utah to development on to the Senate as part of an omnibus parks bill. The bill linked wilderness designation of 1.2 million acres in Utah with more than 50 land measures including protection for 17,500 acres in the Sterling Forest along the New Jersey-New York border and trail improvement in Colorado.

Utah Republican Rep. Jim Hansen said the strategy was to include enough feel-good measures to ensure that congressional support could overturn a presidential veto.

But Hansen didn't count on the national stature of Utah wilderness. Responding to alerts from environmental groups, environmentalists from around the country told their senators once again not to sacrifice Utah's redrock canyons. Some listened. On March 25, Sen. Bill Bradley, D-N.J., launched a filibuster, even though he has been a staunch proponent of protection for Sterling Forest. The next day, Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., attempted to add a minimum-wage hike to the already weighty package, a measure opposed by most Republicans. On day three, eight votes shy of the 60 needed to overturn a filibuster, Republicans declared defeat.

Murkowski blamed Eastern senators for blocking "the largest environmental package of the 104th Congress." He told the Senate: "Let us be realistic and recognize New Jersey and other states ... look at the West as a playground, a recreation area for themselves and others of that elitist group."

* Heather Abel