Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah, has formally introduced a Senate version of a controversial bill to protect part of Utah's San Rafael Swell as wilderness. But his proposal does not encompass as much land as Democrats, environmentalists and even Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, want.
The bill, originally proposed in the House by Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, would create a 630,000-acre national conservation area in San Rafael.Bennett's version would protect only 130,000 acres of it as pure wilderness. Other areas would be "semi-primitive." Acreage set aside to protect bighorn sheep would allow somewhat greater access.
Emery County commissioners developed the original proposal, seeking to overcome longtime stalemates over how much wilderness to create there by suggesting many areas be protected but not as stringently as would be required by wilderness designation.
Bennett told the Senate his version includes several changes proposed by the Clinton administration, the House and others concerned with portions of the original "Emery County Plan."
"With a little luck, we might even begin a process which could lead to a resolution to the ongoing Utah wilderness debate," he said.
He added that debate "has gone on too long," and said, "I hope that this legislation can become a model for future conflict resolutions."
Cannon's House version of the bill has been approved by the House Resources Committee. Time for final passage of the bill is short, with Congress having only about four working weeks remaining this session before it is expected to adjourn.