An odd alliance of economists, environmentalists and Utah Jazz players back proposed federal legislation that would promote the restoration of grizzly-bear habitat over subsidized logging in five Western states.
The Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act would affect public-land management in parts of Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington but carries implications for Utah as well."If this works there, we could do the same for forests in Utah," said Michael Garrity, a University of Utah economics instructor and author of a study that inspired the proposed law.
Garrity said Utah might see more direct effects, too.
"If there's a healthy population of bears (in Idaho and northwest Wyoming), bears and wolves could move down into the Uintas (of northeast Utah)."
Garrity, who is working on an economics doctorate at the U., has pushed his model of an improved economy in the region since 1994, gradually enlisting support for it along the way.
Timber company executives and members of the United Pa-per-work-ers International Union in Idaho have questioned his research, but it was endorsed last fall by three Idaho Teamsters Union locals representing 5,000 workers in Boise and Pocatello and Butte, Mont.
Environmentalists back it as well, chiefly through the support of a Missoula-based group called the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
In an unusual twist, add to the list now six Jazz players and the team's former center, Mark Eaton.
Garrity approached the squad during a team practice at Westminster College earlier this year after enlisting the aid of one of his students, Danny Davis, a starting offensive guard on the school's varsity football team.
Garrity said Eaton and five players, Antoine Carr, Karl Malone, Jeff Hornacek, Adam Keefe and Stephen Howard, promptly signed a letter to freshman Rep. Merrill Cook, R-Utah, asking him to co-sponsor the bill as drafted by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.
"John Stockton was the hardest to convince . . . he took the information home and read it over first," Garrity said.
"We went after Stockton and Malone because they're both interested in the environment," he said. "Malone's a hunter and has an interest in protecting wildlife and I knew Stockton would be interested because he's from the northern Rockies."
Cook said he has met with supporters of the proposal but remains noncommittal until further study.
"If there's a way to save taxpayer money and get to a balanced budget and eliminate corporate welfare, then I'm all for it," he said.
"(But) we need good science before we jump into these things," Cook said. "I do want to talk to some of the logging industry people and balance out what the others are saying."
At the heart of Garrity's thesis is a challenge to popular beliefs that the health of rural economies in the West is tied to extractive land-use industries like logging.
His study concluded that jobs would be generated - not lost - through restoration of grizzly-bear habitat across the region.
According to Garrity, some 1,500 workers, many of them unionized heavy-equipment operators, would be needed to remove more than 3,400 miles of old logging roads that hamper bear activity.
Simultaneously, a ban on below-cost logging in roadless areas would reduce a burden normally borne by taxpayers, Garrity said.
About 300 logging jobs would be lost.
Garrity said his proposal offers an alternative to traditional disputes in which jobs are popularly considered the victim of en-vi-ron-men-tal-ism.
"Compared to what we've seen in southern Utah, this is a new and innovative approach because it goes past some black-and-white issues," he said. "Here's a way we can help workers while protecting the environment."
Garrity says he hasn't published his work in peer-review journals but says he's received endorsements from 48 economists from around the country.
"I think the analysis is very good," said Richard Fowles, a U. economics professor who sits on Garrity's doctorate committee. "It's somewhat controversial, but I think it's right. It's an important piece of research."