To the editor:

A recent Deseret News article calling Escalante "1 of 10 towns in West facing extinction" (Oct. 18) contained a number of statements essentially blaming "environmentalists" for the community's economic difficulties. I wish to address several points to offer a more balanced perspective.Foremost of these was the assertion that "most timber that is being offered for sale by the National Forest Service in southern Utah is under appeal by various environmental groups." This is simply not true. The fact is, in the entire history of the timber sale programs of southern Utah's two national forests - the Dixie and the Fishlake - only three sales have ever been appealed.

For the record, the volume of timber represented in these three appealed sales - 3.7 million board feet - amounts to just 16 percent of the total volume currently being sold from the forests in one year alone.

The story also stated that Escalante's sawmill "recently laid off 30 employees, and more layoffs loom because of shortages of available timber." It didn't mention, however, that in the nearby Boulder Mountain area Escalante mill currently has 1.5 million board feet under contract that it has been authorized to cut since July. And with local observers saying that the mill's yard is presently stockpiled as full as it's ever been with finished lumber products, it seems fair to ask some hard questions about the layoffs from a business standpoint.

Finally, the article quotes a county commissioner claiming that "with all the environmental restrictions we're facing down here, Escalante is a community dying on the vine." Those alleged restrictions have been around for a couple of decades. Nobody, however, has ever considered Escalante a booming community.

Long before there were any environmental regulations, towns came and went. Ghost towns are nothing new in the West. If Escalante is to avoid that fate - and we certainly hope it does - its interests would be better served focusing on problems and opportunities from within instead of unjustifiably laying blame elsewhere.

William Patric

Utah Wilderness Coalition