Facebook Twitter



Utah cattlemen's concerns over wilderness expansion in southern Utah was demonstrated in a cool reception for Utah's Democratic Congressman Wayne Owens in a debate over wilderness issues with his long-time Republican adversary Rep. James Hansen, R-Utah, Friday morning.

Hansen, on the other hand, received long and loud applause from more than 150 members of the Utah Cattlemen Association gathered in Salt Lake City when he suggested the Bureau of Land Management protects the land just fine and that too much additional wilderness would be a hardship to those who eke their living from the state's redrock deserts.Owens urged the ranchers guarantee the land's legacy through legislation and support his proposal that 5.1 million acres of BLM land be set aside as wilderness.

He promised the ranchers that he would protect their interests in his wilderness bill, which makes allowances for ranchers and miners currently working the area but would prohibit further development.

"I want a significant portion of the state of Utah as wilderness," Owens said. "We're foolish if we don't say, `Let's save a portion of this state as God and Mother Nature took 10 million years making it.' "

Hansen countered by saying the wilderness designation was too restrictive and that much of the area in Owens' bill already has been trammeled by cattle and miners. It doesn't fit the federal wilderness guidelines recommending undeveloped areas for consideration, he said.

"I don't argue that a small percentage should be preserved," Hansen said. "The issue is what percent should be, where it should go and who should it conflict. If there is a mine or a road, it doesn't qualify as wilderness."

Hansen said he believes the real agenda of some wilderness proponents is to close down the areas to everyone.

"I believe in preserving the land for the people, not protecting it from the people," he said.

The Bureau of Land Management has set aside 3.2 million acres as potential wilderness, most of which is contained in a horseshoe-shaped sprawl from the Deep Creek Mountains, through the San Rafael Swell and into the Book Cliffs.

State BLM Director James Parker says the bureau's final proposal to the president will contain about 2 million acres.

Owens' proposal includes much of that area and about two million more acres, some of which is leased for grazing by ranchers.

In a question-and-answer period, Owens was repeatedly asked how more wilderness will help the financially strapped southern portion of the state. The cattlemen expressed concerns that the land would be locked away from them forever, preserved for only a few people who don't have to try to make a living there.

Owens maintained that the desolate beauty of the area was the very thing that could save the flagging economy. "Tourism is enhanced by wilderness designation," he said.

"The greatest attribute of Utah is its beauty," he said. "People who think they'll find some mineral that will be an economic panacea are being unrealistic."