Congressman Wayne Owens has now introduced his bill to establish more than 5 million acres of wilderness in Utah. None of this wilderness is in the district he was elected to represent, but it will be detrimental to his constituency and devastating to southern Utah.
Owens apparently believes that areas must be designated wilderness by Congress in order to be protected, that designation of wilderness will enhance tourism and that he is representing not only the people in his district but the entire state and his "national and international constituency."Some myths and facts with respect to wilderness or single use are:
Fact: There is already more than 4.78 percent of all the land in Utah set aside for single use in wilderness, in National Forest and BLM wilderness, national parks, monuments, recreation areas, etc. Owens' bill would add almost 10 percent more for a total of 15 percent.
Myth: If it isn't designated wilderness, it won't be protected and will be destroyed.
Fact: There are lands that still meet the criteria for wilderness, which is proof that lands will not be destroyed and can be protected.
We now have laws on the books that can protect the scenic, aesthetic, historical, cultural and other values and still have the economic values of resource production that we all need, jobs and tax revenue to educate our children and provide other public services.
Myth: Wilderness designation will protect and enhance tourism. Utah State University has concluded that it does not help tourism. Statistics also show that the use of wilderness areas is declining while other recreation uses are increasing. What little use and benefits there are of wilderness are more than offset by management and search and rescue costs. People do not pay for their use of wilderness.
Fact: Tourism grows and flourishes where there is development, facilities and activities. Of the present $2.2 billion tourist industry, almost half is in the Wasatch Front at Temple Square, the Kennecott Copper Mine and the ski resorts, hardly pristine undeveloped areas.
Fact: Of the 3.5 million visitors to Lake Powell last year, about 2.8 million went to the Page-Wahweep area in Arizona, which has only 3 percent of the lake and is right under the Navajo coal-burning power plant with its high stacks, strobe lights and pollution. Only about 700,000 visited the 97 percent of Lake Powell in Utah which is "pristine and undeveloped."
Also, Kane, Garfield and Wayne counties are good examples of what tourism alone does for an economy. They have been allowed to have only their basic agriculture and tourism.
These counties are right in the middle of the most widely known developed, accessed and visited national park area with millions of visitors annually. Virtually every resource development has been stopped in the name of hurting tourism.
What are the results?
These three counties have only about half the population they had 50 years ago, which means they have lost half their seed and all their increase.
In addition, they have nearly the lowest per capita income and the highest average unemployment in the state. They also have about the highest percentage of public land that is "unspoiled" and unused of any counties in the state.
Fact: Most taxes, jobs and economic development come from energy and mineral resources below the surface of the land.
More than 90 percent of the wealth on public land in Utah comes from the production of mineral and energy resources below the surface of the land. These are resources we all must have to survive.
In addition, they provide the jobs to support our families and the tax revenue to educate our children, provide social and human services, build and maintain roads, provide law enforcement and all other government services.
It would be nice if Owens would confine his activities and representation to the people who have the opportunity to vote for or against him.
He might start by having tourism as the only economy in Salt Lake County to experience how it works before he tries to impose it on all of southern Utah.