The recent article in the Deseret News by Sens. David Hinkins and Brad King (“No losers in Utah’s Public Lands Initiative,” May 27) ignores key factors of wilderness law and access in their discussion of the Public Lands Initiative (PLI). The authors don’t see the initiative for what it truly is — a compromise to be wary of, if for no other reason than the public hasn’t seen which lands Rep. Rob Bishop proposes for wilderness, or, perhaps more importantly, which lands he leaves out.

The authors’ comment about wilderness designations eliminating all uses but one is simply untrue. Wilderness designations, which seek to protect the natural beauty and uniqueness of Utah’s untouched lands, still allow for a myriad “uses.” These uses include hunting, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, climbing and camping, as well as photography, scientific research, wildlife habitat protection and cultural artifact protection.

In addition, wheelchair use, even motorized chairs, is allowed for people with disabilities, who can also use rafts, canoes and pack animals to experience the wilderness lands. The use and access by a diverse range of people in the wilderness designated areas is a far stretch from the authors’ comment about the areas only being available to “the most experienced hikers.” The thousands of people of varying abilities who access Utah’s current wilderness sites such as the High Uintas, Lone Peaks, Twin Peaks and Mt. Olympus would beg to differ with this misleading claim.

The legislators also assert “wilderness now provides to be the currency with which stakeholders can secure land use designations from which they have been deprived.” Just because market forces, or the terrain itself, have never allowed development of certain minerals doesn’t mean there has been “deprivation.” The designation of wilderness areas seeks to protect wild lands and preserve their primitive nature while providing space for wildlife and plants to grow and thrive in peace. In an ever-crowded world, humanity needs these things. The preservation of these wild lands allows Americans the comfort of knowing that places such as these still exist in a world of ever-shrinking natural habitat. We all have a stake in the privilege of keeping wild lands just that — wild.

It’s true that, as the article suggests, all stakeholders may get something they want from the PLI, but we have to be careful. If we don’t hold out for meaningful protection of the wilderness, then what are we gambling away? We have to pay attention to the details of the initiative and really think about what will happen to this land if it becomes just part of a stagnant list of development projects.

The authors lament how “any future president could unilaterally act to lock up land or could manipulate land management policies to get the desired political outcome.” Isn’t this exactly how we got the majority of Utah’s national parks? Arches, Capitol Reef, Zion and Bryce Canyon were protected by presidents who acted with preservation in mind to bring Utah economic and environmental rewards. This would not have happened had local interests exploited them with only the short-term gain in mind. If not for presidential long-range vision, we probably would not have the “Mighty Five” we promote today.

The legislators’ article does make some fair points, but it ignores the main issues. Our primary focus in the PLI should be in protecting wilderness land; it's as simple as that.

Elena Gardner is a student at Gonzaga University who grew up in Utah. She is passionate about the environment and sustainability.