Utah's duelling congressmen, Republican Jim Hansen and Democrat Wayne Owens, introduced their sharply different wilderness bills Thursday to preserve portions of Bureau of Land Management areas in the state.
Owens' bill would put five million acres into wilderness. Hansen's would give wilderness protection to 1.4 million acres.Rep. Bruce Vento, D-Minn., chairman of the Parks Subcommittee, has promised to put both bills before his panel later this year.
Owens said in a floor statement Thursday that all of Utah's environmental groups have agreed to back his bill.
Quoting John Kennedy, Owens said, "Our task is to hand down undiminished our heritage of natural beauty." He was to present details of his plan at a Salt Lake press conference Friday.
Jim Catlin, president of the Utah Sierra Club, who was in Washington for the introduction of Owens' bill, said, "this is probably one of the most important public-land decisions for the rest of the century in Utah."
Hansen told a Washington press conference that he was introducing legislation to set aside 1.4 million acres because those were the "pristine, unspoiled" areas in the 3.3 million acres that were studied by the bureau. He said he had hiked, ridden or flown over much of the proposed wilderness, and planned to look at every acre with state and federal officials and "anyone who is interested" in the land.
"That total is not sacrosanct," he said. "We could add or subtract hundreds of acres from it."
He said Owens' proposed five million acres "far exceeds the areas that meet wilderness criteria."
"I believe the people of southern Utah have a right to make a living," Hansen added, suggesting that putting more land in wilderness would hurt the local economy in those areas.
The process of negotiating a final wilderness bill could take years, Hansen said. Owens earlier predicted it would take four or five years to work out.
An aide to Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, who supports a wilderness designation close to that which Hansen has called for, said a bill could take more than seven years to complete, depending upon how hard each side sticks to its positions. Garn has said there will be five million acres of wilderness in the state "over my dead body."