One of the saddest things in the world is the necessity to protect wilderness from people. Companies are ready to go into the wild and ravage it if there isn’t a law that protects that part of the land. Those laws prevent companies from destroying everything in their path in the name of profit.
There is a current bill before the U.S. House and Senate that would designate thousands of acres of southern Utah land as wilderness. What originally started out as “America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act” has morphed to include some 10 million acres around the state.
The act would lock up a large portion of land, including 58,000 acres adjacent to Zion National Park, plus an additional 300,000 acres throughout southeast Utah. Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, designated land would have prohibited activities, including use of motorized vehicles and mountain bikes. No roads would be permitted on the land, only trails for hiking. I’m not opposed to preservation when it is done right.
People behind the bill
When I first heard about this bill, I was curious to see who was sponsoring such a giant leap of conservation. On closer examination, the Senate version was introduced into the current Congressional session by Dick Durbin of Illinois and is co-sponsored by 14 other senators, none of who are from Utah. The co-sponsors read like a who’s who of Senate power players, such as the two senators from California, Boxer and Feinstein, the two from Massachusetts, Kennedy and Kerry; there’s also Patrick Leahy and Hillary Clinton on the list as well.
My curiosity began to get the best of me, so I called our two Utah senators. I asked their staff why the legislators weren’t co-sponsoring the bill when it specifically affects their represented area. I got a pretty clear-cut answer from Mary Collipriest in Sen. Bennett’s office. “It’s not something we will support,” adding that she wasn’t sure Sen. Durbin had ever even been to Utah. “We will not support wilderness designation in other states, so senators from other states should not support legislation for ours.”
From Sen. Hatch’s office I got much the same answer from Adam Elggren. “Sen. Hatch realizes there is some land that needs to be designated as wilderness, but this is the exact wrong way of going about it.”
Not only will our senators not be a part of the bill, but also their input was never even sought by Sen. Durbin when he wrote the piece of legislation, said Elggren.
What is wrong with all of this?
All 14 Senators in support of the wilderness designation sit on the Democratic side of the aisle. In the House, Congressman Matheson has seen so much controversy surrounding the bill, he doesn’t want to support it either. The same goes for Utah Representatives Rob Bishop and Chris Cannon.
What’s wrong with this picture? No one from Utah is supportive of a bill in the House or Senate that would lock up approximately 10 million acres of land as wilderness, but everyone else, including leaders from California, New York and Massachusetts, are quick to speak on our behalf.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a conservation group, would not return my calls, but made a statement on their Web site that “Citizens outside of Utah who love and treasure this amazing landscape have every right to demand its protection.” I disagree.
People outside of Utah are more than welcome to enjoy the beautiful scenery, but when it comes to control of our land, we should be the ones to make that decision. The truth of the matter is, some of the land in the proposed wilderness area is school trust land. Money that helps support the state education system is supported by these lands, which are often leased to oil, gas and other mining companies. Those lease dollars support education, but if trust land is locked up in a wilderness area, that would prevent any mining, making the trust land virtually worthless unless exchanged with other federal land, which is shrinking as well.
Wilderness is a wonderful thing, but its planning and execution needs to have local input.