The governor's wilderness review process is a sham. It is intended to create the illusion of encouraging public input while actually discouraging and even ignoring meaningful public input.
I recently spoke at a Tooele County hearing. I made substantive and specific comments. However, the county did not record the comments verbatim. In fact, the comments were basically merely categorized as "opposes wilderness" or "likes wilderness." Then the citizens committee, which was made up primarily of ranchers and other interested parties who favor little or no wilderness, basically ignored public input and made the most minimal wilderness recommendations possible. They refused to even discuss wilderness potential for some areas, including the Dugway Mountains.Tooele County refused to allow me even to comment for the record on my feelings about the Newfoundland Mountains because they are in Box Elder County. The Box Elder County Commission refused to even hold public hearings, deciding that they spoke for everyone in the county in recommending "no wilderness."
Thus the counties are stacking the deck against recommending wilderness. The process is hurried and the counties are making recommendations based on anti-wilderness emotions. The merits of each area proposed for wilderness is largely being ignored.
The next step in the process does not appear to be any better. Regional hearings scheduled for Moab, Cedar City, Price and St. George have been arranged to minimize participation by Wasatch Front residents. When I called the governor's office to sign up to speak, I was asked whether I favored or opposed the recommendations. I asked where I could obtain a copy since I was unsure what the recommendations were. I was told no copies are available for distribution. I was also told that I would probably be unable to speak at two of the four hearings because of the timing of the schedule. I replied that since I am taking time off from work and driving all the way to these hearings, I expect to be given the opportunity to speak.
It appears that the governor will succeed in producing a wilderness bill by June, meeting his time goal. For this, perhaps, he should be congratulated. However, the time frames and the process itself have allowed the governor to achieve this only by sacrificing any real chance for meaningful public participation. In the end, we are all losers.
Salt Lake City