Environmentalists gave Congress a wish list this week for the Land and Water Conservation Fund, including 15 tracts of Utah land they'd like to see purchased by federal agencies.
Congress created the fund in 1965. Federal oil leases on the Outer Continental Shelf supply most of the money. Up to $900 million can be appropriated from the fund every year.Conservationists figure that under former President Reagan, funding has averaged only around $220 million a year.
The latest proposal, drafted by a coalition of 20 environmental groups, is to spend $781 million for land that might be under threat of development in 46 states.
Last year, Congress funded proposals for three land acquisitions in Utah in Westwater, Desolation and Red Butte canyons. The projects were strongly supported by Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah.
Mike Medberry, Utah representative of The Wilderness Society, helped draft the new recommendation. Nearly all cases are "willing seller" situations. He said Utah parcels on the list this year are:
- A small tract in Mill Creek near Salt Lake City, a plot used regularly by the public, to be added to Wasatch-Cache National Forest.
- A parcel at Stump Hollow, Logan Canyon, for Wasatch-Cache National Forest. "There's a threat of development along a stretch of road in Logan Canyon," Medberry said. "It's surrounded by Forest Service land," and the agency doesn't want to see commercial development beside the scenic highway.
- Two small parcels in Flaming Gorge National Recreation Area, 135 acres together, to supplement a planned land exchange.
- About 11,000 acres on the shore of the Great Salt Lake west of Brigham City, which could be added to the flood-damaged Bear River Wildlife Refuge.
- The Switchbacks section of land beside the Burr Trail in Capitol Reef National Park, presently owned by Garfield County. This is one of the rare instances where an owner doesn't seem interested in selling. If Garfield County isn't, it probably won't be sold.
- A parcel near Dinosaur National Monument, Daniel's Canyon, could be added to the monument.
- A 320-acre plot in the Beaver Dam Slopes in extreme southwestern Utah, critical habitat for the threatened desert tortoise.
- About 160 acres of the Fremont River Narrows and adjacent Jacksonville Marsh, important to waterfowl and migratory birds. BLM officials want to make it more manageable and reduce livestock damage to the ecosystem.
- Lookout Pass Pony Express Station in the West Desert, 160 acres.
- Morning Glory Arch and adjacent land, a 640-acre state section in Negro Bill Canyon near Moab.
- The Pariette Wetlands on the Green River south of Vernal, 503 acres, to expand a nearby wildlife management area.
- Rush Lake in Tooele County, 1,005 acres. "Because of the depletion of the wildlife habitat all along the Great Salt Lake, this area becomes more important."
- A state section within Parunuweap Canyon Wilderness Study Area east of and touching Zion National Park. It breaks up BLM jurisdiction in Bay Bill Canyon and the East Fork of the Virgin River.
- Two state sections, 1,280 acres, within Red Mountain Wilderness Study Area 10 miles north of St. George.
"The problem that BLM identified is there's access to the middle of the WSA by all-terrain vehicles."
A federal program is in place to make such ecologically valuable acquisitions. This is exactly what was foreseen when lawmakers earmarked some of the revenues from offshore leasing for the fund.
The proposals are intelligent suggestions to protect Utah's recreation, natural setting, and wildlife habitat. Our congressmen should support them vigorously.
For some parcels, the chance may not come again.