Thanks for your recent editorial praising Congressman Cannon's attempt to resolve Utah's wilderness debate. I would like to clarify a couple of points on HR3625, Cannon's San Rafael Swell Bill.
HR3625 creates a 630,000-acre San Rafael Swell National Conservation Area where mining, logging, oil and gas exploration and tar sands development would be banned and vehicles restricted to existing, designated roads. That's an area considerably larger than Salt Lake County and larger than the High Uintahs Wilderness area. The 355,000 acres mentioned in your July 30 editorial are parcels within the Conservation Area that would receive additional protection. HR3625 is the only proposal (including the new 8.5 million acre wilderness proposal) that would protect the entire San Rafael Swell from development.The original version of HR3625 also designated wilderness in Desolation, Turtle and Horseshoe canyons along the Green River, for a total of 987,000 acres protected in Emery and Carbon Counties. Those areas were dropped from the bill after wilderness groups complained that boundaries were drawn along county lines. HR3625 was developed in cooperation with Emery and Carbon counties, who had no authority to make land management proposals for other counties. At the time, it was also rumored that Representative Cook wanted to prepare his own proposal for the Book Cliffs. It's ironic that Cook is now criticizing HR3625 because it doesn't protect enough wilderness.
HR3625 protects desert bighorn sheep and their habitat by creating a Bighorn Management Area on Sids Mountain. Bighorns had been extirpated from Sids Mountain until 30 head were reintroduced in 1978. The herd is now one of Utah's largest and serves as a seed source for transplants throughout the west. Bighorns are an umbrella species. This means that if the sheep are doing well, it is safe to assume that the plants and animals that share their habitat are also thriving. HR3625 allows BLM and DWR the flexibility they need to manage the sheep and their habitat. It also creates opportunities for the public to learn about bighorns and their needs.
The proposed Desert Bighorn Sheep Management Area is subject to all of the land-use restrictions listed above. In addition, HR3625 specifies that BLM managers can limit mechanized and non-mechanized access to sensitive areas during critical periods. This means that even hikers could be excluded from lambing grounds or important Bighorn watering sites if need be. What protection would wilderness provide that the Bighorn Management Area does not?
Wilderness advocates have labeled HR3625 as "anti-wilderness." It's not anti-anything. It is a common-sense approach to land protection that deserves the support of Utah's entire congressional delegation and fair consideration in Washington.