To the editor:
In his March 9 piece entitled "Counties figure high cost of wilderness," San Juan County Commissioner Bill Redd demonstrates his ignorance about wilderness and the economics of San Juan County.The economic report he quotes from was written by George Leaming, a voodoo economist from Arizona. Leaming's report has been lambasted by university academicians from all over the West who view it as "laughable," "unprofessional" and "thoroughly uncredible."
Although Redd writes affectionately about mining, he is blind to the reality that between 1980 and 1988, mining employment in San Juan County fell by more than 35 percentage points; today, only 0.3 percent of the county's residents are employed by the mining sector.
Over the same time period, the service sector grew by 80 percent and now employs more than five times as many workers as the mining sector. It was the service sector that cushioned San Juan County against the uranium bust in the early 1980s.
Corresponding to the increase in service sector income (whose earnings began outpacing those from the mining sector in 1984), total personal income in San Juan County grew throughout the 1980s.
Redd conveniently ignores that this economic growth has come after more than 3.2 million acres became protected in Utah as "Wilderness Study Areas." This fact dispels the myth that wilderness would cause economic ruin in San Juan County and the rest of southern Utah.
Service sector jobs complement an area surrounded by the unique beauty of San Juan County, and workers are not exposed to the same health threats as those working uranium mines.
Redd's assertions that wilderness designation eliminates recreational opportunities as well as grazing are unfounded and so ridiculous that it borders on the absurd.
Finally, Redd's reference to wilderness as a "federal power base" is a manifestation of his "sagebrush rebel" orientation. This indignance towards the federal government is highly imprudent, as government employees in the county outnumber those employed by his beloved mining sector by more than 10 times.
Not only is Redd biting the hand that feeds him, but he is slapping facts and reality right in the face. Wilderness will bring the gift of community and economic stability to San Juan County and all of southern Utah, which the boom-bust mining economy could never afford.
Ken A. Rait
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance