Name-calling has no place in the important debate over Utah's wilderness designation.
It's already difficult enough to see through the smokescreen of emotion billowing over the landscape. Crucial basics are overlooked in all the acrimony.Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is calling others "extremists" for wanting what he considers too much wilderness. He acts as if folks from the East have no legitimate interest in Utah's federal land.
"I think it's about time that people in Utah started to understand that we're dealing with some extremists back here," Hatch said in an interview broadcast Thursday evening on KUED, Channel 7, the public TV station operated by the University of Utah.
Hatch's comment about "extremists" made no reference to parties who could legitimately be considered extremists - like the radical Earth First! group. His comments appeared aimed at those who want 5.1 million acres of Utah land designated as wilderness.
"And when we have five Democrats, all liberals, a number of them from back East, come and start telling us what we have to do in Utah, by gosh, that's pretty offensive," Hatch added.
He was incensed over a letter written by five powerful Democratic members of Congress asking the Interior Department to expand BLM wilderness study areas in Utah by 2 million acres, to dovetail with the 5.1 million acre wilderness bill Owens introduced.
"Then where do we get our oil and gas development, where do we get our mineral development . . . where do our ranchers get land for their cattle, where do our woolgrowers get lands for their sheep, where do our farmers get their water from?" Hatch asked.
On the question about what right these outsiders have to say anything, the obvious replay is that it's their land too. We're not talking about state school sections, or private land the homesteaders plowed 100 years ago, or even federal land that is under heavy use now. We're talking about federal land that is so pristine that it qualifies as wilderness. It is the precious land inheritance of every American.
An oddity to the slam against easterners is that Hatch is a transplanted one. He was born and raised in Pittsburgh. Hatch relocated to Utah only in 1966, just eight years before he ran for the Senate.
In the interview, he said everybody believes the final wilderness bill will be between 1.5 million and 1.9 million acres. If that turns out to be true, it will be an undemocratic bill, at least according to the latest Deseret News-KSL poll.
The poll shows that only 24 percent of Utahns want wilderness to be designated in that range or less. All others with an opinion (43 percent) want more.
Indeed, a hefty 34 percent of the state's residents want more wilderness to be designated than 3 million acres. It's not unreasonable to ask the BLM to study more land, particularly in light of its history of tossing out large chunks of potential wilderness for the flimsiest excuse.
Seventeen percent of Utahns want at least as much land as Owens asked for. If I were a senator, I'd be cautious about calling so many of my constituents "extremists."
On the rhetorical questions about if Owens has his way, where will we get our water, where will we get our grazing land, where we will we get our oil and gas development - part of the answer is that some of these things can take place in wilderness and some can't.
The rest of the answer is that we will always have development on land NOT designated as wilderness or set aside as national parks or locked up on military bases - that is, all the private land, state land, forest land not designated, BLM tracts left unprotected.
Here are the figures I was able to scrounge up, some perhaps more reliable than others: Owens' bill, 5.1 million acres; Forest Service wilderness, roughly 800,000 acres; military reservations, 4 million acres; National Park Service land, 2.1 million acres - total, approximately 12 million acres.
Utah's land area is around 52.5 million acres. Subtracting the 12 million, we are left with 40.5 million acres where development is essentially unrestricted.
Why, that is far more than the entire state of Pennsylvania, open for mining, ranching, oil drilling and general gouging - yet I don't hear Pennslyvanians whining that they got gypped.
People who want to save this tithe of 5.1 million acres of Utah for the future - who want to preserve part of their birthright for people like my little boy so they can enjoy a taste of undamaged nature - should not be branded as extremists.