Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and the 36-group Utah Wilderness Coalition on Monday attacked the Bureau of Land Management's wilderness proposal and released an alternative plan in the form of a 400-page book, "Wilderness at the Edge."

The book, which includes information on more than 3 million acres excluded by the BLM, sweeps through the entire state - from the slot canyons of the Escalante Canyon Basin to the rugged hogback spine of the San Rafael Reef, to mountain ranges hanging mirrorlike above northern Utah's salt flats. Illustrated with both color and black-and-white photos and maps, it will sell for $29.95 softbound.The first press run was 4,000 copies, to be distributed nationwide and throughout Utah.

About $40,000 was required to cover the costs of the book, and Rudy Lukez, conservation chairman of the Sierra Club's Utah Chapter, estimated that volunteers from the 36 groups donated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of their own time. They traveled throughout the regions, documenting the proposal.

The research covers 66 proposed wilderness units, with a total of 5.7 million acres.

By contrast, a month ago the BLM announced its final recommendation, about 1.9 million acres. A legislative advisory committee has voted, with dissension in its ranks, to support 1.4 million acres.

The book details the virtues and weighs some conflicts in wilderness areas contained within HB1500, Owens' wilderness proposal. The proposal was earlier said to cover 5.1 million acres, but the groups said Monday that a more accurate figure is 5.7 million.

"Wilderness is the greatest natural pure resource left, and there is very little of it," Owens said at a news conference in the Federal Building. "We attack the BLM proposal as being greatly inadequate," not because of its conclusions but because of the BLM's basic assumptions, which cut out 3 million acres of wilderness-quality land because of supposed conflicts with development potential, he said.

"The BLM does not control what is concluded, nor what is finally designated - that is a function of Congress," he said.

Owens said the purpose of the book is to lay out the facts and help with the wilderness dialogue. "Wilderness is multi-purpose. Wilderness is not locking up land. You can hunt in it, you can fish in it." Provided one has a valid mining claim, he can mine in it; ranchers can let their livestock graze there, he said.

"We're not committed to any one piece or any one number," Owens said. What the backers are committed to is laying out the case for wilderness to both Congress and the skeptics at home.

Ken A. Rait, issues coordinator for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said, "Wilderness at the Edge is the job that the Bureau of Land Management failed to do." The book is destined to supplant the BLM's final environmental impact statement, he predicted.

Rait called the BLM's recommendation "a poisoned fruit off a poisoned tree."

Polls show strong support among Utahns for a large wilderness designation, he said.

Terri Martin of the National Parks and Conservation Association told of seeing wild oak-covered hills and clear streams in California disappear during her first 20 years, victims of growing urbanization. "This country too will vanish unless it is protected," she warned.

"I hope that Utahns will not wait to learn the value of preserving their precious land until it's gone."

Lukez said, "This book really represents the extensive knowledge and the deep love of many Utahns who worked hard over the past 15 years."

Jane Leeson of The Wilderness Society said the study not only details the areas' beauty and biological diversity, but takes a serious look at the economic consequences of wilderness. She acknowledged some real conflicts, but said that in the long run, wilderness is a better use of the land.

The Utah uranium market has died, she said, yet she said the superb White Canyon wilderness was dropped by the BLM because of the "phantom of uranium." She also doubted that the coal resources of the Kaiparowits Plateau could outweigh its value as wilderness.

John Veranth, president of the Wasatch Mountain Club, said he hopes the book will help open a dialogue on these areas, which are "national and global treasures."


(Additional information)

Stegner speaks

"The Utah deserts and plateaus and canyons are not a country of big returns, but a country of spiritual healing, incomparable for contemplation, meditation, solitude, quiet, awe, peace of mind and body. We were born of wilderness, and we respond to it more than we sometimes realize. We depend upon it increasingly for relief from the termite life we have created. Factories, power plants, resorts, we can make anywhere. Wilderness, once we have given it up, is beyond our reconstruction." - From the forward, written by noted author Wallace Stegner.