Several readers with whom I discussed this told me they saw my criticism of a master's degree thesis in last week's column but not the correction I wrote for the following day's page B1. Assuming there may be many more like them, it's a good idea to set the record straight one more time.
I believe the thrust of my column was correct, that figures on wilderness use show that wilderness is a good investment for Utah. But the purpose of this sequel isn't to belabor my own point, it's to correct my mistakes.Kim S. Christy, the thesis' author, included one table that was crucial: Table 26, which compared wilderness acreage and use in Utah with non-wilderness acreage and use. He also included another set of figures, Table 9, comparing acreage and use in wilderness areas in Utah, the region and the nation.
Blame it on the jackhammers, which have been tearing up our offices, pounding madly hours on end and spreading cement dust. Or just blame me. But what happened is that toward the end of my column, I badly confused the figures. I feel like a dope.
The critical figures are in Table 26. What they show is that from 1967 to 1986, people using Utah's wilderness areas went up from 164,700 to 479,600, increasing to 291 percent of the earlier total.
In the same period, non-wilderness use increased from 6,328,900 to 12,699,800 - up to only 200 percent of what this type of use had been.
The per-acre figures reported in the thesis showed an opposite situation to what the column wrongly said. They show that visitors per acre of non-wilderness are 1.76 yearly, while for wilderness, they're only 0.62 per year.
"So on an acre-by-acre basis, wilderness is used nearly twice as heavily as non-wilderness," I wrote.
No, the thesis does not show that. It shows non-wilderness is used much more than wilderness. I apologize to my readers for making the mistake, and I apologize to Christy for accidentally misrepresenting his work.
Ordinarily, writers have a safeguard against this kind of error: the policy not to criticize anyone without talking to him about it if he wants to talk.
Last week when I was writing the column, I left messages that I wanted to talk to Christy and to one of his advisers. I tried to call Christy both at his work and home, where I left a message on his answering machine.
But nobody called me back - I thought. I believed Christy didn't want to go over the figures with me.
I wrote the column, and then after it was set in type, a person I love dearly told me she had forgotten to inform me Christy had called while our boy and I were at a baseball clinic for kids his age. She had written the number on the blackboard by the refrigerator, and intended to tell me but it slipped her mind - just as I've forgotten dozens of times to tell her somebody called.
So to my shame, some really messed-up figures got into print.
I've been writing this column on a fairly regular basis since 1977, when Jimmy Carter was president, nearly two years before Sky was born. Since Friday I've been trying to reassess things.
I have a hunch that controversy isn't always valuable. It may be time to turn away from writing about battles and more toward the things so many are fighting about anyway, which is nature.