In the quest to realize the vision of 5.7 million acres of BLM wilderness in Utah, environmentalists are inevitably asked to compromise. Yet compromise of much of Utah's glorious canyon country has already been rampant.
History demonstrates that public land laws were passed in response to uses deemed inconsistent with the public interest. In theory, the laws were sound; in reality, however, the loss of resources only accelerated. Today, only about 2 percent of the ancient forests remain and the Environmental Protection Agency reports that livestock grazing has deteriorated Western watersheds to their worst condition in history.The 1964 Wilderness Act, like its public land law predecessors, was passed in response to tragic disregard of public resources. It marked the realization by Americans that our wild lands were being cut apart for short-term gain, with no consideration given to some of their more intangible, unquantifiable and timeless values.
It was passed as a vehicle through which the American public could set aside pristine lands so that present generations would not unfairly compromise all of the wild places at the expense of future generations. The act was passed in recognition of the compromises already having been made. Nowhere is this more evident than in Utah.
Bob Marshall's 1936 roadless area inventory identified more than 13 million acres in the Colorado plateau region, excluding the West Desert and Greater Zion areas. The Colorado River canyons, which made up almost 9 million acres of this amount, constituted the largest roadless area existing in 1936.
Today, the offensive Lake Powell and diminutive Canyonlands National Park stand as the only vestige of Interior Secretary Harold Ickes' 4.5-million-acre Escalante National Monument proposal (defeated). When we are asked to compromise, we should respond that the compromise has already been made.
The compromise already exists in the massive scars from chaining activities on Cedar Mesa and in the Henry Mountains. Temple Mountain and the San Rafael Knob at the heart of the Swell have already been compromised by largely unregulated uranium exploration. Seemingly everywhere, seismic lines and ORV trails wreak havoc upon otherwise virgin landscapes. Long Canyon has been compromised by the Burr Trail.
Irreplaceable archaeological resources have been extensively destroyed and vandalized. The land of native bunchgrasses with populations of gray wolves and grizzly bears has been transformed into a place dominated by sagebrush and cattle. The Utah Division of State Lands and Forestry has whored our children's trust to the highest bidder.
Even the Wilderness Act itself was a piece of compromise legislation because it allowed for the continuation of grazing and mining activities within designated wilderness, where these uses were previously established.
Compromise is a matter of perspective with components of both time and space. We have already compromised most of the roughly 16 million roadless acres that existed in southern and western Utah only 50 years ago.
Today, only 5.7 million acres of roadless BLM lands exist that meet the criteria of the 1964 Wilderness Act. Can we afford to compromise any of these roadless acres that have survived to 1991? I think not.
Environmentalists argue that wilderness designation gives future generations a choice. By showing the foresight now to protect 5.7 million acres proposed for wilderness designation in Rep. Wayne Owens' HR1500, we ensure that the greed of today does not rob our descendants of their wilderness legacy.
It has been said that in the environmental movement, our victories are temporary and our defeats permanent. The 1964 Wilderness Act gives us the unique opportunity for an everlasting victory. The 5.7 million acres embodied in Owens' HR1500 consists of lands that are significant not only nationally but globally and worthy of protection.
This proposal is a vision for all Utahns to be proud of and to defend with great tenacity. Any further compromise would be an unforgivable inequity to the spirit of the plateau region and to future generations.