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NAVAJO AND SAN JUAN LEADERS ASK OWENS TO ALTER WILDERNESS PROPOSAL

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San Juan County officials and Navajo Indian leaders have asked Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, to adjust his wilderness legislation to ensure continued access to public lands in southern Utah for traditional and cultural uses.

In a resolution adopted this month, the San Juan County Commission, cities of Blanding and Monticello, and the Utah Navajo Development Council asked Owens for support "in our efforts to be industrious and self-sufficient."The resolution, dated July 7, petitions the congressman to back local efforts to maintain multiple use of federal lands "without the restrictive designation of wilderness so that our people may enjoy the economic benefits . . . other people in the nation enjoy."

The document endorses access to public lands by all races for oil exploration, mining, grazing, water development projects, hunting, fishing, tourism and cultural activities such as ritual herb gathering by Indians.

Owens was presented the resolution in Blanding and told county and Navajo officials he is willing to consider changes if his wilderness proposal presents serious problems to the Indian way of life.

"We're not wed to our proposal," he told a small group on a field trip to the Cedar Mesa wilderness study area and Aneth, San Juan County, on the Navajo Indian Reservation.

Owens said amendments to his proposal are circulating in Washington, D.C., at this point, and Congress is five years from a final decision on how much wilderness to designate in Utah. His proposal is for an additional 5.1 million acres of wilderness, which includes 682,800 acres in the Cedar Mesa unit southwest of Blanding.

The congressman and Scott Groene, a staff assistant, joined San Juan County commissioners, local tribal leaders and Dick Neztsosie, director of the Utah Navajo Development Council, for a drive into the Cedar Mesa area to discuss concerns about wilderness designation.

In the afternoon the group traveled to the Aneth area where Owens spoke to a crowd gathered for a ritual dance. He told the Navajos he is aware of their concerns about wilderness and believes they are entitled to use the lands for wood gathering, sustenance and spiritual needs.

San Juan Commissioner Mark Maryboy, a Navajo, said he invited Owens last fall to visit with the Indians about wilderness but also to familiarize him with reservation issues.

Rep. Howard Nielson, R-Utah, is representative for the district but has done little for the Indians, said Maryboy, a Democrat. He added that he does not blame Nielson so much as the Republican Party.

"Owens is not our representative, but we feel like he's our last hope," he said.

Navajos James Jim and Walter Atene, Oljeto tribal councilman, said "aboriginal" uses, including hunting and wood gathering, must be allowed to continue on Cedar Mesa.