Rep. Howard C. Nielson is preparing a proposal to set aside 839,000 acres of federal lands in Utah for wilderness designation, a fraction of the amount proposed by other members of the state's congressional delegation.
Nielson aide J. Morgan Young said the Republican lawmaker thinks the 5.1 million acres proposed by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, and the 1.4 million acres sought by fellow Republican Rep. James Hansen are too much.Nielson's proposal, still in the preliminary stages, also may include language to designate 1.2 million acres of wilderness within Utah's national parks. This is relatively non-controversial because the wilderness designation would not change the management of the park lands.
The congressman also is considering the addition of Desolation Canyon of the Green River and Westwater Canyon of the Colorado River to the national "Wild and Scenic Rivers System." This proposal would involve about 50,000 acres, Young said.
River corridors with this designation are managed to protect the natural flow of water. This means dams or other types of water diversions are prohibited. Various levels of protection can be applied to adjacent lands, ranging from modest development to wilderness.
Young said two of the proposed wilderness areas in Hansen's bill that would be deleted in Nielson's proposal are Sids Mountain and Mexican Mountain in the San Rafael Reef of central Utah.
Lawson LeGate, associate Southwest regional representative for the Sierra Club, said Nielson's 839,000-acre wilderness proposal is so small it is hardly worth considering.
"I'm reminded of the event at a carnival where you're supposed to swing a hammer and try to ring the bell. Rep. Nielson's bill is a 95-pound weakling. It can hardly pick up the hammer, let alone ring the bell," LeGate said.
The Sierra Club, along with a number of other environmental groups, prepared the 5.1-million acre wilderness proposal that Owens incorporated in his legislation. The BLM has made a preliminary recommendation for 1.9 million acres of wilderness on the land it manages. BLM's final recommendation is expected later this year.