To the editor:
In three long, misleading articles in the Oct. 30 Deseret News, writer Jerry Spangler outlines a view of what has come to be known as the Sagebrush Rebellion. Mr. Spangler has chosen a difficult subject and made mincemeat of it; his articles are muddied by editorial opinion in the guise of facts, marked by unfinished research, and stuffed with rhetorical excesses.While reasonable people may differ as to the merits of the Sagebrush Rebellion, readers of the Deseret News deserve more facts and better journalism than Mr. Spangler provides.
At the center of the Sagebrush Rebellion of 10 years ago was a controversy over federal land use policy. In Utah, about 66 percent of our land is federally owned. Much of that land was available for virtually unrestricted use until the 1976 passage of a law called the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, known in governmental parlance as Flipma.
Residents of southern Utah had become so used to doing whatever they pleased on the public lands which surrounded their towns that the new restrictions were cause for rebellion. Rebellion and vengeance against the agency responsible for implementing this new law: the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), against those who had worked for passage of the law, and most regrettably, against the land itself.
Flipma is a complex law which requires the BLM to comprehensively plan for a multitude of uses on its lands in order to best serve the diverse needs of the American public. One of these uses is to leave the land essentially as it is, to manage it as wilderness. And it is to this provision of Flipma that the Sagebrush Rebels most ardently objected.
Not long after passage of the law, a group of Moab, Utah, citizens drove bulldozers up nearby Mill and Negro Bill creeks, degrading two spectacular and unroaded slickrock canyons, in an attempt to eliminate the areas from the BLM roadless area study which was mandated by Flipma.
Because these Sagebrush Rebels had friends high in the Reagan administration and in Congress, the bulldozer diplomacy was all too successful. This is the heroic rebellion of which Mr. Spangler writes.
Mr. Spangler's articles also blame federal land use policy for the demise of the grazing and mining industries in Utah. He fails to point out, however, that the price of beef is low for a variety of reasons, including that Americans are increasingly aware of and acting upon the knowledge that a steady diet of red meat is unhealthy.
Similarly, weak markets have laid low the oil, gas, coal, uranium, and other mineral economies in this state. Apparently Mr. Spangler would rather take pot shots at bureaucrats or quote a Sagebrush Rebel on the imagined disutility of wilderness than bother with the facts.
Wilderness management is multiple use management as its critics perfectly well know. One may hunt and fish in wilderness, ride horseback through it, graze livestock on it, conduct scientific studies in it, hike through it and be challenged by it, or simply sit and enjoy its beauty and its solitude. One may, in many cases, drive to its boundaries and look into it.
Moreover, in 1964, when the Wilderness Act passed, provisions were written into the law to allow domestic livestock grazing to continue at historic levels within designated wilderness and mining to occur on valid claims which exist when the wilderness is designated.
The Wilderness Society