A resolution urging Congress to designate no more than 1.4 million acres in new wilderness land has been endorsed by the Legislature's Energy, Natural Resources and Agriculture Interim Committee.
The resolution was prepared by the state Wilderness Task Force. Sen. Cary G. Peterson, R-Nephi, who was a member of the task force, said the 1.4 million acres corresponds with the prime areas contained in a U.S. Bureau of Land Management recommendation that supports designating 1.9 million acres in new wilderness for Utah.Both recommendations fall well short of the 5 million acres proposed by Rep. Wayne Owens, a Democrat representing the 2nd District. Owens has also suggested taking up to 10 years to make a final decision so the public can be properly educated concerning the need for wilderness areas. That prospect outrages opponents, who call it de facto designation since study areas receive the same treatment as areas formally designated for wilderness protection.
The resolution calls for Congress to act as quickly as possible on wilderness issues affecting Utah. It also asks that efforts be made to trade state land within the wilderness areas for usable land in other locations, and it asks that federal administrators and judges be forbidden from creating buffer zones restricting economic or other kinds of development in areas bordering the wilderness areas.
The resolution seeks congressional support in requiring federal agencies to seek water rights in wilderness areas through existing state allocation processes with no preferential treatment.
The resolution is expected to win formal approval when the Legislature meets in January. If past patterns continue, voting is likely to follow partisan lines with Republicans favoring the resolution and Democrats voting against. First District Rep. James Hansen, a Republican, told task force members recently that the resolution would have to win overwhelming support in the both houses of the Legislature to have much impact on Congress.