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Panel backs Arches expansion

Without a word of opposition, a proposed expansion of Arches National Park was endorsed Wednesday by the full House Resources Committee.

Meanwhile, the Interior Department said it will treat the area as formal wilderness.By voice vote, the Resources Committee approved a bill by Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, to expand the park by 3,140 acres to include the Lost Spring Canyon area. It now goes to the full House.

Cannon said that area is part of the park's natural ecosystem, but half of the arch-filled canyon was originally excluded when boundaries were drawn in straight lines instead of following natural borders.

"We have worked long and hard to ensure that this bill had the input of all the different parties concerned with this expansion," Cannon told the committee.

The Interior Department sent a letter to the committee Wednesday saying the Clinton administration also supports it.

Also, such moderate environmental groups as the Grand Canyon Trust and the National Parks and Conservation Association have testified in favor of it.

However, more zealous environmental groups - such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance - have opposed it, noting that it would split an existing U.S. Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Area just outside current park boundaries.

SUWA contends the land would be better protected by adopting formal wilderness designation for that larger area. It also worries that adding the area may damage the park by attracting extra tourism to fragile areas.

Don Barry, acting assistant Interior secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, wrote the committee Wednesday that the park service intends to "protect the area's wilderness values, and actions such as road or campground construction will not occur."

But, he said, "It is expected that additional trails may be necessary to access this area." He added that the area will be incorporated into proposals for areas of formal wilderness protection within Arches.

Cannon has used the expansion proposal - and open discussions about it - to tweak the Clinton administration for not having similar open debate before its surprise creation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument last year.

"Frankly, the open-door process worked very well," he said Wednesday.