The president of the 230,000-member Wilderness Society says Utah politicians aren't hearing the voice of the majority of the state's citizens, people who want wilderness areas protected.
George Frampton, in a visit to the Deseret News Thursday afternoon, said the group hopes people will become interested in the wilderness debate from a more rational basis, rather than "looking at it from an ideological point of view." The group has 1,200 Utah members.Instead of the emotional reaction many politicians have had against wilderness, they should begin seeing it in logical terms of the value of natural areas and the trade-offs that would be involved in particular wilderness designations, he said.
"Look at these lands area by area," he urged.
Most Utahns want some sort of wilderness protection, especially those who live in the urban areas, he said, quoting polls that show strong support for wilderness. "I don't think those voices have been heard," Frampton said.
The resistance to wilderness by politicians is stronger here than in most places "in part because the history of Utah has been much more closely tied to minerals," Frampton said. Economic shifts toward tourism have taken place more quickly in other places, he said.
"The West was built on the development of federal public land. That is the history of the West."
But today, the fact is that the West is attractive because of the quality of life here, and in the 21st century that will be even more true, he said. Nature is an important asset, both to those who live in Utah and to business.
In Oregon, a state he recently visited, tourism is a $2 billion yearly business, he said. It employs 50 percent more people than timber, once the largest industry in that state.
County commissions in Wyoming have become involved in protecting the national forests there. The forests are a source of income from tourism.
Local people realize "you're going to get more money out of it (a forest) by not cutting down the trees," he said.
In the area around Yellowstone National Park, five to 10 times the number of jobs are available from recreation than would be generated by cutting down the trees. "To some extent that economic reality will begin to manifest itself here too," Frampton said.
The West is the most urbanized part of the country, according to Frampton. Most of the people in the region live in cities and suburbs.
"I think that what brings people here, keeps people here, and brings business, is the unique diversity and quality of life," he said.
Frampton said Utah has 36 million acres of federal land - 4 million in military reservations, 2 million on Indian reservations, 800,000 set aside in national forest wilderness areas. The Utah Wilderness Coalition, which includes his group, wants to protect in addition 5 million acres of Bureau of Land Management land, he said.
"We think that's a reasonable proposal, and we're in the process of documenting it over the next six months." The coalition will produce a book with photos, boundaries, descriptions, resource conflicts and reasons for protection enumerated for each tract.
"From our point of view that 5 million acres is the most ecologically sensitive land," he said. Much of it is adjacent to national park areas.