Much to the annoyance of Republicans, Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, is again pushing his bill to create 5 million acres of wilderness on U.S. Bureau of Land Management areas in Utah.
In preparation for introducing the bill in another month or so, Owens sent letters this week to the 106 other House members who co-sponsored his bill last year, asking them to do so again.He has arranged for the bill to have the same number as last year, HR1500.
Utah Republicans, of course, favor much less wilderness than Owens. Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, pushed a bill seeking only 1.4 million acres of BLM wilderness - which he says is 1.4 million more than many Republicans want but is what he feels is truly justified.
Until a wilderness law is passed, the 3.2 million acres of Wilderness Study Areas now on BLM land are treated as if they were already wilderness - which has prevented some development of minerals and roads, upsetting miners and ranchers.
Newly elected Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, in whose district much of the proposed wilderness lies, is working with Owens to schedule a series of public meetings in the state to discuss, property by property, whether parcels should become wilderness.
Owens' letter to his old co-sponsors said the areas he proposes for wilderness "are wildlands of extraordinary diversity and splendor, from ponderosa forests to parched badlands, rugged desert mountains to wild rivers and rainbow-hued canyons with plunge pools and waterfalls to red sandstone mesas, monoliths and arches."
He also noted that his bill is endorsed by all national conservation organizations and 35 independent Utah conservation and sportsmen groups.
He added, "The national conservation community informs me that preserving Utah's BLM wilderness is among the most critical environmental efforts of the coming decade."
Owens also sent his old co-sponsors a glossy pamphlet full of color photos of proposed wilderness areas published by the Utah Wilderness Coalition.