When county officials met with members of Utah's congressional delegation here Tuesday morning, it turned into a Wayne Owens-bashing session over Owens' proposal to put 5.4 million acres of federal land under permanent wilderness protection.
Owens, D-Utah, was the only member of the delegation not present. He is still in the Middle East on a trip to inspect the Persian Gulf area. He was represented by aide Scott Kearin.Kearin said Owens has committed to support the 5.4 million-acre figure as a point from which to start discussion of the value of specific areas.
Representatives of the affected counties would like to see no more land put into wilderness, said Mark Walsh, associate director of the Utah Association of Counties. The county officials gave the five Utah lawmakers present copies of a 2-inch-thick study outlining adverse effects of adding to the wilderness preserves in the state.
During the breakfast session, most of the county officials criticized Owens for his bill and for proposing to "lock up" areas that might prove important for mining, water development, oil and gas production and tourism.
Kearin said the counties' study "is unbelievable" in its findings of heavy adverse economic effects from wilderness preservation.
"Where the economic values do not override wilderness values, Wayne feels these lands should be preserved," Kearin said. The Owens bill has been sent to the House parliamentarian, Kearin added, and may be officially introduced Tuesday afternoon.
Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, drew no criticism in the meeting. Orton, who has been in Washington for only 10 weeks, said he would like to examine the areas proposed for wilderness protection in light of potential economic effects.