Republicans vowed revenge if he did it. The Utah Legislature passed a resolution against it. And even the U.S. Bureau of Land Management said it would be excessive.
But Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, reintroduced a bill Thursday to create 5 million acres of wilderness on BLM lands in Utah.The Legislature and Utah Republican leaders in general favor no more than about 1.4 million acres of BLM wilderness - a half-million acres less than the BLM endorsed. Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, has said he will introduce a bill calling for that 1.4 million acres.
But Republicans - who have a majority in the Utah Legislature - don't bother Owens much because he and his fellow Democrats far outnumber them in both houses of Congress.
And until some wilderness bill is passed, 3.2 million acres of Wilderness Study Areas in Utah are treated as if they already are official wilderness - which limits mining, grazing and other activities. That's more than twice the acreage Republicans want, but just over half of what Owens seeks.
As Owens reintroduced his bill, he told the House, "I hope we will be wise enough to save a significant portion of Utah's remaining wilderness. It is the finest legacy we can leave our children and generations yet unborn."
Owens waited to introduce the bill until it could have the same number as in the last Congress - HR1500. Bills are numbered in the order they are introduced.
Owens noted his bill "is endorsed by all major national conservation organizations and 35 independent Utah conservation groups. It calls for the preservation of over 2 million acres more than the BLM was even willing to study for wilderness designation.
"Curiously, the BLM began its Utah wilderness study over 10 years ago by identifying more than 5 million acres as qualifying for wilderness review. Then, astonishingly, the BLM methodically eliminated from consideration all wildlands where potential conflicts with economic development were speculated."
But Owens said, "Utah is realizing that its fastest growing area of economic opportunity - tourism - is entirely dependent on the preservation of its natural beauty."
Owens also said, "The national conservation community agrees that preserving Utah's BLM wilderness is among the most critical environmental efforts of the coming decade. There is nothing else quite like Utah's wilderness lands on Earth - and what we lose today, we lose forever."
Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, whose district contains much of the wilderness proposed by Owens, has talked Owens into holding joint meetings with him throughout his district to talk about proposed wilderness on a property-by-property basis.
Republicans have also said openly that as part of redrawing Congressional District boundaries this year - which is overseen by the Republican-controlled Legislature - Owens' all-Salt Lake County district may be broken up so that it will include rural areas, where his wilderness proposals are especially unpopular.