The fur could have flown Thursday night at the after-dinner program at the Governor's Forum on Natural Resources.
After all, newly re-elected Democratic Congressman Wayne Owens on Wednesday announced that he would not seek a congressional vote on the 3.2 million acres in Utah now under wilderness study designation for five or 10 years - until the local political climate becomes more favorably disposed toward wilderness, he said."There is an immense educational project that has to happen," he said in a Wednesday news conference.
Until the issue comes to a vote, all 3.2 million acres will continue to be treated as wilderness.
Gov. Norm Bangerter has denounced Owens' plan to wait, calling it "a ridiculous position for a person to take."
Lame-duck Republican Congressman Howard Nielson also took a swipe at Owens at Thursday night's forum.
While "some people think we can take forever" on the issue, Nielson said, "people need to know how that land is going to be used."
But though debate could have raged at the forum, it didn't.
Owens was to have shared the dais with Nielson and Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, for a discussion of the congressional perspective on the wilderness vs. multiple-use issue, but he didn't show up.
Congressman-elect Bill Orton - a Democrat - took Owens' place at the head table. Although he started off sounding like a wilderness proponent, he ended up singing in harmony with the others, all of whom said they favored multiple use.
"I am a conservationist," he said. "I can think of nothing better than to saddle my horse and ride off into that beautiful wilderness country. I am committed to conserving that beautiful nature."
But we also have to preserve the economy, he said.
"I believe wilderness designation has a purpose," he said. "I also believe there are other means of protecting that property other than a wilderness designation. I am strongly in favor of multiple use of public land."
Then, perhaps as a signal to Owens, Orton said he will work with the entire congressional delegation to come up with a bill "that is best for Utah, that is best for the people in my district. . . . You'll find out with me, I'm not much of a partisan politician."
Nielson said that resource conflicts exist in all of the counties that comprise the 3rd District. The best way to resolve those conflicts, he said, is to give the local residents the strongest voice in the decision.
"The people most directly affected should have the strongest say," he said. "People who ignore that do so at their own peril."
Also present for the forum were Jeff Sirmon, deputy chief of programs and legislation for the U.S. Forest Service, and Dean Stepanek, Bureau of Land Management deputy director. Both said they support multiple use.