Utah's congressional delegation may be miles apart - or more accurately, about 3 million acres apart - along party lines on how much U.S. Bureau of Land Management area in Utah they say should be declared wilderness.
And the lone Democrat, Rep. Wayne Owens, served notice Tuesday to his four Republican colleagues that they don't even necessarily agree on the process they should follow to try to come up with a compromise.The four Republicans - Sens. Jake Garn and Orrin Hatch and Reps. Jim Hansen and Howard Nielson - on Monday sent a letter to Owens calling for unity on the wilderness issue and proposing a process to work out compromises.
On Tuesday, Owens wrote back praising the Republicans for taking an active approach to the wilderness issue - but said their proposed steps did not go far enough for him.
Owens also warned the Republicans, "Within the next two weeks, I will introduce my bill to consider more than 5 million acres for wilderness designation. Let the debate begin."
The Republicans have not yet formally proposed how much wilderness they would like, although an aide to Hansen said he is looking at a ballpark figure of 1.9 million acres - but that it is not yet firm.
Garn's press secretary, Laurie Snow Turner, said Garn is not looking at any figure yet and wants to find a process that determines what acreage is best rather than coming up with a number first and then trying to justify it.
The BLM has been reviewing 3.2 million acres of its holdings for possible wilderness designation and is expected to soon release its final recommendation. Republicans are expected to follow the BLM recommendation fairly closely.
Owens, however, wants more wilderness than the BLM is even considering because he said the BLM process that began 10 years ago excluded review of many areas because of "value judgments and discretionary determinations which are now outdated."
Owens' letter Tuesday also said he disagrees with some assumptions outlined by Republicans in their proposed process to reach a compromise on BLM wilderness.
For example, the Republicans said, "Utah residents should be the primary voice in shaping any wilderness legislation."
But Owens responded that the process "must be comprehensive and include consideration of all interests, local and national."
Also, he told Republicans, "Your proposed process would seek to set local non-renewable and temporary economic benefits as the controlling criterion, and that would be a very shortsighted mistake indeed. . . . Utah's scenic wonders are our birthright. The process for their protection should guarantee the highest standard of review, not seek the lowest common denominator."
Republicans wanted to send staff members to inspect the various proposed wilderness sites, but Owens said he plans to do all such traveling personally.
The Sierra Club is offended by a letter from Utah's GOP congressmen that says Utahns should have a say in wilderness legislation.
"It implies Utahns thus far have not participated," said Lawson LeGate, a club representative in Salt Lake City.
"Utahns have spent years designing the 5.1 million acre wilderness proposal. It was Utahns who packed the meeting halls throughout the state to support this 5.1 million acre proposal and to criticize the BLM's wilderness proposal."