A resolution supporters hope will settle once and for all the debate over how much wilderness Congress should designate in Utah is on its way to Washington, D.C.
With Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, by his side, Gov. Norm Bangerter signed a copy of a resolution Monday calling for no more than 1.4 million acres to be set aside as wilderness by Congress."The purpose of this legislation is to send a strong message to the Congress of the United States that the people of Utah have agreed on what is a rational and reasonable wilderness policy for our state," Bangerter said.
HCR13 asks that Congress enact "a fair and equitable Utah wilderness bill . . . taking into account not only the protection of Utah's national beauty and environment but also Utah's people and economic future."
The Senate voted 23-2 in favor of the resolution, while the House voted 49-22 in favor, with most of the no votes coming from Salt Lake area Democrats.
Based on the recommendation of Utah lawmakers, Hansen said he will again introduce legislation in Congress calling for 1.4 million acres of wilderness as soon as he returns to the nation's capital.
"The people of Utah have spoken," the 1st District congressman said. "There's no reason now why this should be held up."
Supporters of the resolution, which was drafted by a state Wilderness Task Force, are anxious to resolve the question of how much of the 22 million acres in Utah managed by U.S. Bureau of Land Management should be preserved.
The 3.2 million acres now considered Wilderness Study Areas are off-limits to some mining and development just as if they had already received wilderness designation.
The BLM recently released a study calling for 1.9 million acres of the Wilderness Study Areas to be set aside, a study that Hansen said cost $7 million to produce.
The 1.4 million acres referred to in the resolution are what has been identified in the BLM study as "prime wilderness areas," according to supporters.
The resolution itself does not specify what land should receive wilderness designation, stating only that the total amount should be no more than 1.4 million acres.
There has been a call for even more wilderness than the 3.2 million acres under consideration. Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, is seeking to create more than 5 million acres of wilderness in Utah.
The resolution, which received bipartisan support in the Utah Legislature, does not change Owens' mind about how much wilderness Utah needs, according to his press secretary, Art Kingdom.
"In the overall scheme of things, the resolution probably will have little effect. Members of Congress will take note of it," Kingdom said. "I doubt if it will turn the tide."
Owens announced last month that he plans to reintroduce his bill for 5 million acres of wilderness shortly.
He and newly elected Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, plan to hold a series of statewide meetings on the issue.
How much to set aside?
Utah Wilderness Coalition 5.7 million acres
Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah 5.7 million acres
Bureau of Land Management 1.9 million acres
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah,
and Utah Legislature 1.4 million acres