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WAR OF WORDS ON WILDS ESCALATES

Vic Saunders, vice president of communications for the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, laments how "environmentalists use wild exaggeration and hyperbole to create a crisis" (My View April 5). He lists as examples Vice President Gore, the Sierra Club and other organizations regarding deforestation and loss of rain forests. Instead of the "bleatings of the spin doctors," Saunders encourages the "honest and objective" standards of "scientific research."

It's easy to sympathize with Saunders' frustration at the nearly overwhelming amount of information - often contradictory - generated in debates on the environment. In his critique, Saunders spends considerable effort analyzing the position of Gore found in his book "Earth in the Balance" and is not persuaded. He offers instead the findings of a university ecologist and NASA employee based on NASA satellite photos - apparently the "honest and objective scientific research" he prefers.But for Saunders to use "science" to defend his position, he must respect its discipline and requirements. For example, the scrutiny Saunders gives to opposing positions on deforestation and rain forests is not given to the NASA data. One must simply accept the claim at face value that the "total world deforestation is probably closer to 6 million acres." There is no corroborative evidence.

And beyond saying that rain forests will "regrow," Saunders, unlike "scientific research," does not deal with any of the consequences of deforestation - like the loss of organisms that may have significant medical value, or of erosion, flooding, and damaged watersheds.

No doubt, the NASA research followed sound "scientific" methods. But virtually all sides claim "scientific research" to support their positions (look, for example, at the endnotes and bibliography in Vice President Gore's book). Saunders may be relying too heavily on elusive and tentative "scientifically proven truths."

Saunders concludes with what can be read as his real reason for writing - not deforestation of rain forests but "policies and regulations that force people off the land and families into ruin. Utahns are tired of the misinformation, and the messages sound too hollow." These are serious charges, and since rain forests are not an issue in Utah, it's possible his editorial is an opinion about environmentalists' proposals regarding wilderness designation in Utah.

The Deseret News recently editorialized about wilderness designation (April 4), calling the recommendations from the counties for less than 1 million acres as "one end of the extreme," and the 5.7 million-acre proposal (supported by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance) the other. The Deseret News calls the BLM recommendation of a little less than 2 million acres "an acceptable, moderate solution." (The editorial may erroneously leave the impression that these three are the only proposals and fails to mention the Utah Wilderness Alliance proposal of 2.8 million acres.)

Certainly, the BLM believes its recommendation is built on solid study and exhaustive research. But of course, so does the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, as documented in the publication Wilderness at the Edge.

The wilderness debate in Utah has generated much "scientific research," study, political debate, opinion surveys and public meetings. It is difficult to know if any of these efforts have brought Utahns closer to a consensus. Perhaps in the purer chambers of individual conscience, beyond economic, recreational, political and other self-interests, we might realize a unity and common interest of land and people that far exceeds our expectations.

Val N. Edwards

Bountiful