While bills to create wilderness in Utah are usually controversial, one is nearing final passage in Congress that makes all Utah members of Congress happy.
Legislation to protect portions of the Colorado River under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act - which would make beaches essentially wilderness areas - was passed Thursday by the House Interior Subcommittee on Parks and Public Lands.The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jake Garn, R-Utah, has already passed the Senate and may come up for action this week in the full House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee. A vote before the full House could follow soon after.
All members of the Utah delegation have supported and pushed the bill to protect Westwater and Cataract canyons - even though members are deeply divided on other wilderness issues.
For example, Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, wants to create 5 million acres of wilderness on U.S. Bureau of Land Management land in Utah. Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, has said he would prefer none because it might hurt ranchers and miners. Other members fall somewhere in between, and disagreements have stalled any progress.
But they agree that protecting Westwater Canyon near Moab would protect its beauty for river runners and others and will improve the economy by attracting more visitors.
The 12-mile stretch of the river is also habitat for two endangered species of fish, the humpback chub and the Colorado squawfish.
"There is no wilder stretch of the Colorado River than that which flows through Westwater Canyon," said Lawson Legate, Utah representative of the Sierra Club.