To the editor:
The four Republicans in Utah's congressional delegation and the governor issued a press release asking that "the type of unity" that resulted in their 1984 forest wilderness bill be repeated for Utah's upcoming canyon and desert wilderness bill.The 1984 bill protected only 750,000 acres of Utah's 8 million acres of National Forest land. Even the relatively anti-wilderness Forest Service has recommended 780,000 acres and further study for another 140,000.
Not only were many deserving areas left out of the 1984 bill, but the areas designated were disastrously compromised by the Utah delegation's "unity." The boundary of the Box-Death Hollow Wilderness in the Escalante Canyons was gerrymandered for carbon dioxide exploration. Critical recreation and wildlife lands on the east slope of Mt. Naomi and the north slope of the High Uintas were left open to oil exploration. Off-road vehicle corridors that the Forest Service recommended against were drawn through Mt. Nebo and Dark Canyon. Deseret Peak and Pine Valley Mountain were left half-protected for no reason at all.
Utah's Republican members of Congress and the governor want us to use this lowest common denominator approach again for southern Utah's canyons and western Utah's desert mountain ranges. What is needed, though, is a less rushed process that responds more to the long-term local and national quality of life and less to short-sighted local economic interests.
These lands are public lands belonging to all Americans and most of them are biologically and aesthetically integral with our national parks. Millions of people from across the country enjoy these lands every year and care deeply about what happens to them. All Americans rightfully should have a strong voice in determining the future of these lands. But Utahns have a special responsibility to protect Utah's canyons and deserts and we must continue to speak out.
Particularly in southern Utah, there is a national treasure of spectacular dimensions. Between Bryce Canyon and Canyonlands national parks there is a 10 million acre area that has only one corridor of pavement cutting across it, no powerlines, and less than 1,000 residents. A 4.5 million acre national monument was proposed for this region by the Department of the Interior in the 1930s. Today it falls to us to protect what is left after the inundation of Glen Canyon by Lake Powell.
Utah conservationists join Congressman Wayne Owens in the four- to five-year process to win protection for 5.1 million acres of the canyon country and the desert mountains - less than 10 percent of the state and less than one quarter of Utah's 22 million acres of canyon and desert public lands. Surely this is not too much to ask in a state as richly blessed as Utah.
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance