Ed Harrison would like to develop a mining claim for titanium and zirconium that he placed in 1981 near Kanab.
But it's in a wilderness study area - which is treated as if it were an official wilderness area, not just merely under consideration. So officials closely regulate new mining to ensure that it won't harm existing wilderness qualities."So I can't build a road to my claim or dig to explore at all," Harrison, a Salt Lake resident, said about restrictions placed on his one-man operation. "They're trying to tie up everything."
Harrison is an example of miners, oil and gas developers and grazers - who all can use wilderness legally under certain conditions - who still worry about proposals to expand wilderness and about foot-dragging by politicians that is, in their eyes, keeping study areas "locked up" for years.
Pro-wilderness Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, says he may need years to "educate" them and others to overcome what he says are misconceptions about wilderness.
Others, including Rep.-elect Bill Orton, D-Utah, want to get the process moving faster.
Orton and Owens agreed on a first step this week to try to start the debate moving.
"I talked with Wayne Owens, and we've agreed to hold joint meetings throughout my district and talk on a property-to-property basis. We would look at the effects of all proposals and take comments," Orton said.
"Wayne said he is willing to listen and negotiate. It will give people the opportunity to meet with us, so hopefully we can get the process moving," he said. He expects the series of meetings to begin in the spring and go through the fall.
But Owens is not overly optimistic the meetings will speed things up too much. "I said two years ago that I thought it would be a five-year process. By that reasoning, we are probably still three years away.
"But I hope we can work something out soon. I would like to work with Gov. Norm Bangerter before he leaves office (in 1992)," said Owens, who added that he has had a similar series of meetings on his own in southern Utah.
Politicians are still miles, or at least millions of acres, apart. Owens is proposing 5.1 million acres of Bureau of Land Management wilderness - much more than the 3.2 million of existing BLM wilderness study area.
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, said he will probably reintroduce a bill calling for 1.4 million acres of wilderness to begin discussions with Owens. "Some people get upset at proposing any wilderness at all. But they don't realize we essentially have 3.2 million of wilderness in wilderness study areas until we pass a wilderness bill."
And those 3.2 million acres contain many minerals and other assets that miners such as Harrison want to develop unfettered by the strict wilderness rules.
For example, Don Banks, spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Utah, says 19.3 percent of all wilderness study area acreage in the state has mining claims filed of one sort or another.
Laws allow claims that were located before 1976 to be explored even if the resultant digging hurts wilderness values, said Greg Thayn, BLM wilderness specialist.
But claims filed after 1976 "have to be explored and shown to be valid in a non-impairing way, which is much more difficult to do," Thayn said. Still, even if the area becomes official wilderness, it is possible for those claims to be developed or even "patented" - meaning the miner could buy and own the land.
But Thayn said that once an area becomes official wilderness, no new claims may be located there by law.
Banks said three formal development applications for mining claims in wilderness study areas have been denied, and some other miners decided not to pursue development when they learned of restrictions they would face to protect the wilderness.
Also, 17 percent of all coal reserves in Utah are in wilderness study areas - and 138,000 acres in study areas contain oil, gas or coal leases, Banks said.
Thayn said wilderness study areas are not open to new leases, although existing ones may continue operation until the end of their term - which is normally 10 years. Some producing leases could be renewed, he said.
"So there's considerable acreage someone may want to put under lease but can't," Banks said.
Banks added, though, that much of the non-leased coal land - for example - likely would not be developed soon anyway because it is remote, and extracting it in underground mines would be expensive compared to stripped-mine coal available in Wyoming.
Wilderness designation also would prevent expansion of grazing permits. Thayn said he anticipates grazing in wilderness areas would be allowed at the same level as on the day of adoption. But clearing of land and other steps needed to expand grazing would not be allowed.
Banks said such expansion is unlikely anyway because of drought and economic conditions.
Banks said, "In summary, there is some potential long-range impact on leaseables. But overall impacts to date have been minimal. Some mining operations - small ones - have been precluded."
But Harrison said, "A lot of people are upset. And when I talk to the BLM and others, they don't know when it will be resolved. It could be tomorrow or years from now."
Waiting for Congress
The support for additional wilderness area in Utah ranges from 1.4 million acres to 5.1 million acres - depending on which member of Congress you talk to.
With most political issues, failure of Congress to pass a bill means there is no law on the books. Not with wilderness, however, because "wilderness study areas" have the same land-use restrictions as designated wilderness areas.
So until Congress acts - maybe next year, maybe not for several years - 3.2 million acres in Utah that hasn't been designated as wilderness area is for all intents and purposes already wilderness land.