Easy-to-drive paved roads crisscross much of Arches National Park, delivering visitors to within easy walks of most major attractions.
But a proposed 3,140-acre addition to the park would have no new roads or campgrounds and likely would have current grazing rights bought out and removed. The area would be managed to protect wilderness qualities.The Clinton administration, Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, and a moderate environmental group delivered that message Thursday to the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
The hearing appeared to be aimed at quelling criticism from more extreme environmental groups concerned that the attempt to add the Lost Spring Canyons region to the park is a back-door attempt to prevent its protection as wilderness.
Bennett, Senate sponsor of the bill that Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, has already pushed through the House, said changes have been made to show that removal of wilderness protection is not the addition's intent. In fact, it would help protect the land, he said.
"Language has been included in the bill that ensures the wilderness values of these lands will continue to be protected by the Park Service. No roads or campground construction will occur," Bennett said.
William D. Shaddox, acting associate director of the National Park Service, said the administration also wants to continue to protect the wilderness values there.
"Remote and unroaded, the Lost Spring Canyon addition will provide backcountry experience currently uncommon in Arches National Park," he said.
Tom Robinson, director of the Grand Canyon Trust, a moderate environmental group, said it has reached an agreement with the rancher holding grazing permits in the area to buy him out and remove cattle from the area if the bill passes.
"Clearly, the largest current impact to the area is from grazing, which the park expansion proposal addresses and which wilderness designation does not," he said.
More extreme environmental groups, such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, have pushed for formal wilderness protection of the land, currently overseen by the Bureau of Land Management, without adding it to the park.
But Robinson said, "In well-known canyons pressed against a national park and listed in every guide book - canyons that can be reached by a short hike from the Delicate Arch parking lot with its half-million annual visitors - BLM wilderness designation is probably not the best management regime."
Bennett said the addition, which Cannon negotiated among residents, federal agencies and some environmentalists, is needed because original park boundaries were drawn with straight lines and included only half of the Lost Spring Canyons area.
He said the bill would expand the park boundaries along sensible geographical lines, which increases manageability.
Bennett added it "will enhance the protection of at least 10 free-standing arches, narrow side canyons that are 300 feet deep, additional domes and balanced rocks."