clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

PRO-WILDERNESS BILL REVIVED IN HOUSE

While Utah's congressional delegation is preparing to draft a wilderness bill by June 1, a New York lawmaker has officially recycled a bill endorsed by most environmental groups.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., reintroduced HR1500 on Friday in the House of Representatives.Because of the conservative hold in Congress, Hinchey's legislation likely will go nowhere. Rep. Jim Hansen, D-Utah, is chairman of the House subcommittee on public lands and has vowed to personally block any large wilderness proposal.

But wilderness supporters hope HR1500 will at least counter the Utah delegation's bill, which they predict will be minimalistic.

HR1500 already has 50 co-sponsors, including influential Reps. Norman Mineta, D-Calif., Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., and Peter De-Fazio, D-Ore.

"It shows that there's a whole lot of people out there who have a (large-wilderness) position that can't be ignored," said Mike Matz, director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

First introduced in Congress in 1989 by former Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, HR1500 would give federal wilderness protection to 5.7 million acres of U.S. Bureau of Land Management holdings in Utah.

That amount is about 25 percent of the BLM's 22 million acres in Utah and about 10 percent of the entire state.

"This important legislation will ensure protection of our redrock canyons for all Americans," said Cindy Shogan, a SUWA attorney in Washington, D.C.

SUWA is one of 36 environmental and outdoor groups that belong to the Utah Wilderness Coalition, which originally researched and drafted HR1500. The bill is based upon a coffee table-size book called "Wilderness at the Edge."

Anti-wilderness voices, however, criticize HR1500 as "extremist."

Mark Walsh, director of the Utah Association of Counties, says the bill would cause significant harm to rural Utah economies.

Commissioners from those counties have recommended just under 1 million acres of wilderness. Their proposal comes in the midst of a process started in January by Utah's congressional delegation and governor, who are seeking to end the contentious decade-long debate this year.

Five regional meetings, attended by the governor and delegation, will be held next week in Price, Moab, Cedar City, Richfield and Salt Lake City. The protocol of those meetings is being criticized by environmentalists, who say the state's requirement that speakers sign up ahead of time is tantamount to stacking the deck.

"It is clear that (the governor's office), along with the Utah congressional delegation, is making every conceivable effort to deny substantive public participation in the regional meetings," says a letter that SUWA and the Sierra Club sent to the governor's office on Friday.

But Brad Barber, director of the governor's Office of Planning and Budget, which is organizing the meetings, said every effort is being made to assure that both sides of the debate are allowed ample opportunity to express their views.