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Rural county commissioners on Friday unveiled their ideas about how much U.S. Bureau of Land Management holdings should be set aside as wilderness.

If you're a fan of big wilderness, read no further, for it wasn't a pretty sight: The commissioners are recommending less than 1 million acres.That's about 5 percent of the BLM's 22 million acres in Utah and about 2 percent of the entire state.

It's about half of what the BLM has proposed and 2 million to 3 million acres less than what environmental groups want.

"It's disappointing but predictable," said George Nickas, spokesman for the Utah Wilderness Association, which is proposing that 2.9 million acres be designated wilderness.

The county commissioners, however, were proud of their efforts and unanimously agreed to support each others' recommendations.

"We will see this to the end," said Ty Lewis, a San Juan County commissioner who chairs the Utah Association of Counties' council of commissioners. "We feel we have followed what the governor and (Utah congressional) delegation asked us to do."

Gov. Mike Leavitt and the delegation in January asked the commissioners to recommend by April 1 how much wilderness they believe should be protected under the Wilderness Preservation System.

The governor and delegation plan to hold regional hearings in mid-April and then draft a wilderness bill to be introduced in both houses of Congress by June 1.

Environmentalists have complained bitterly about the process, which they say gives sparsely populated rural Utah too much power over lands that belong to all Americans.

The commissioners counter that rural Utah exists because of its dependence on the public lands and that wilderness will harm rural economies.

"Rural areas are rural because we make our living off the natural resources. That's the cold hard fact," said Bill Redd, a San Juan County commissioner.

Other commissioners expressed a distrust for the federal government in general. "We know what wilderness is. We've lived with it for over 10 years," said Juab County Commissioner Gordon Young, referring to the Mount Nebo Wilderness Area on U.S. Forest Service land in the northeastern part of the county.

In justifying their wilderness proposals, the commissioners generally cited resource-development conflicts and man's intrusion as reasons for excluding certain areas. They also noted an overwhelming opposition to wilderness among their constituents.

Most counties recommended areas that total less than the BLM's proposal. Two counties - Beaver and Wayne - recommended no wilderness.

Three counties - Carbon, Juab and Uintah - recommended more than the BLM proposal, including areas such as the Deep Creek Mountains.

No counties' proposed acreages total anything near those proposed by the Utah Wilderness Coalition, which represents 36 national and local environmental groups.

The UWC has proposed a 5.7 million acre wilderness bill.

Ken Rait, spokesman for the UWC, said the commissioners' collective wilderness proposal will go nowhere.

"It's dead on arrival," said Rait, who had harsh words for the commissioners.

"These guys hate wilderness. They're selfish, they're shortsighted and they're bent on stealing America's wilderness legacy . . . It was precisely what we expected."

Present at the meeting Friday was Brad Barber, director of the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget. Jokingly, Barber hinted that the counties' proposals may be a little inadequate.

"The governor has offered a $10 million grant to the county with the largest proposal and $5 million to all the counties if your proposals added up to a million acres. Looks like you're a little short."

Nickas said the governor and delegation are going to have to add "a heckuva lot more wilderness than what the counties have given them. This process has placed (the governor and delegation) in a tough situation."




Here's how the county wilderness recommendations compare with proposals by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management and the Utah Wilderness coalition:


BEAVER 0 7,321 81,801

CARBON 79,520 73,069 124,075

EMERY 175,000 400,709 1,049,419

GARFIELD 100,311 310,517 984,170

GRAND 200,000 201,946 631,764

IRON N/A 1,585 5,789

JUAB 85,447 66,082 147,763

KANE 47,092 219,949 1,020,489

MILLARD 30,100 102,482 327,399

SAN JUAN 140,900 376,834 1,000,405

TOOELE 39,360 42,176 187,799

UINTAH 38,700 541 91,995

WASHINGTON 50,524 63,443 172,669

WAYNE 0 176,072 513,962

TOTAL 986,954 2,042,726* 6,339,499*

*The BLM and UWC numbers, provided by Utah State University likely include wilderness areas counted twice because they straddle county boundaries. BLM numbers should add up to just under 2 million acres. UWC should add up to about 5.7 million acres.