Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, on Wednesday officially picked up the rope in a tug-of-war with Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, over how much wilderness should be formed on U.S. Bureau of Land Management areas in the state.
He formally introduced a bill calling for only 1.4 million acres, compared to the 5.4 million sought by Owens in a bill he introduced last week. Until some bill is passed, 3.2 million acres of study area is treated as if it were official wilderness - which limits grazing, mining and other activity.Meanwhile on Wednesday, Utah's other House member - freshman Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah - says he wishes both his colleagues had not introduced any bill yet and that they had waited for meetings he is organizing statewide to discuss possible wilderness on a property-by-property basis.
And while Hansen and Owens are pessimistic that any wilderness bill will pass in the next two years because of their differences, Orton said one would pass if everyone were reasonable. In other words, he may sometimes jerk the tug-of-war rope in both directions to coax cooperation.
A new wilderness subplot also developed Wednesday. Hansen claimed Owens' bill would actually create 6.4 million acres of wilderness - not just 5.4 million - because it would surround 1 million acres of state and private land, essentially making them wilderness, too. Owens said that distorts facts.
A second subplot also developed further, with all sides admitting they expect the Republican-controlled Legislature to redraw congressional boundaries so that Owens' district would include areas upset by his wilderness proposals. His district currently is entirely within Salt Lake County.
As Hansen introduced his bill, he proclaimed it the one he says most Utahns support - and the one that the Republican-controlled state Legislature officially endorsed.
"This would not be detrimental to the economy of southern Utah," Hansen said. "It would not hurt lumber. It would not hurt mining. It would not hurt recreation. Above all, it would not hurt the access for those of us who love the public land who have a favorite spot to fish, hike or camp."
Hansen, who always carries a well-worn copy of the legal definition of what wilderness should be, says his bill complies with it by including only areas "untrammeled by man . . . without improvements or human habitation."
He said, "I believe in true wilderness. I don't believe in going over Escalante or roads or cattle or mines."
Staking out a position he believes most Utahns favor might politically help Hansen, who openly says he is considering running for governor or senator in 1992. "I think this is right regardless if I were running for governor, senator, dog catcher or the House."
Hansen admits he may have to move from his current position before a final bill is passed but predicted it will be much closer to his 1.4 million acres than Owens' 5.4 million.
Owens also admitted his bill essentially represents a starting point in a bidding war. "Both mine and Hansen's bill represent the two extremes that each of our sides would like to pursue."
He added he still believes all the area in his bill "merits wilderness," but he is "willing to look at the competing economic and other considerations."
Still, Hansen said, "I think that the senators, the governor, the state legislators, myself and I think Bill Orton - I can't speak for any of them - would be much, much closer to mine than they would to Wayne's. Wayne is odd man out on this. He represents someone outside of Utah."
Orton disagreed. "I don't endorse either bill," he said. "If I were controlling things, I would have had neither bill introduced."
He is organizing meetings to discuss possible wilderness on a property-by-property basis and says at the end of them he will propose how much wilderness should be formed on areas within his district. He hopes to have it done by November, when the secretary of interior must recommend to the president how much wilderness he supports.
"If the delegation is united and we can work out compromises, this could pass quickly. I don't think we need another 10 years to pass a wilderness bill. That's not what the public wants. They want us to resolve this soon," Orton said. Hansen and Owens both give only an outside shot of final passage within two years.
Hansen also attacked Owens' bill Wednesday claiming it will actually create 6.4 million acres of wilderness by surrounding and cutting off 1 million acres of private and state-owned land.
Owens' top aide, Scott Kearin, said it does surround 630,000 acres of state-owned land - but Hansen's proposal also surrounds similar land. "So his proposal would be for 1.6 (million) to 1.7 million acres."
Owens also said Hansen's claim distorts facts because all bills affect only federal land and would not affect existing access rights to surrounding state or private lands or activities on them.
Owens and Hansen also said they expect the Legislature to weaken Owens' current district boundaries and make his re-election more difficult by adding in areas upset by his wilderness proposals.