BLM finds more Utah wilderness to declare
February 8, 1999
By Environmental News Network staff
(ENN) -- Efforts by Utah environmentalists to increase wilderness acreage in the state took another skip down a long trail toward fruition Friday as the Bureau of Land Manage released a new field inventory which identifies 2.6 million acres of public lands in the state that have wilderness characteristics.
Added to the 3.2 million acres of Utah public lands already designated as wilderness study areas, the total of 5.8 million acres almost matches the 5.7 million acres that has been proposed for years by environmental groups in Utah.
"We are pleased, but not surprised, that the Bureau of Land Management has confirmed our analysis of wilderness lands in southern Utah," said Pamela Pride Eaton, regional director of the Wilderness Society Four Corners States Office. "The land doesn't lie. When sound science and strict criteria are used -- whether by citizens conducting a wildlands inventory or the BLM taking a second look at their lands -- the testimony of wilderness is strong and cannot be ignored."
The inventory, ordered by Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt in 1996, focused on lands within legislative Utah wilderness proposal H.R. 1500. The BLM inventory did not include another 3.4 million acres of land in the western desert and the southwestern corner of the state that environmentalists want classified as wilderness. In total, Utah environmental groups say 9.1 million acres in the state should be protected.
The re-inventory was spurred by a 1996 bet by Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, that Babbitt couldn't find 5 million acres in Utah with wilderness characteristics, according to a story Friday in the Deseret News, a Salt Lake City daily newspaper. Utah even went to court to block the inventory, but that block was lifted on appeal last year and the inventory went forward.
Babbitt said Friday that he has directed BLM to initiate a statewide planning effort to determine if additional wilderness study areas should be established based on the new findings. Once an area has been designated a wilderness study area it carries all of the protection of a wilderness area during the study period.
"This issue has been at a stalemate for nearly 20 years because the various interests involved are so far apart on the fundamental issue of how much public land in Utah has wilderness characteristics," said Babbitt. "We now have current, detailed information regarding on the ground conditions that will help get this issue off dead center and allow progress to be made toward ultimate resolution."
Secretary Babbitt announced the planning effort after discussing it earlier this week with Utah Governor Leavitt and members of the Utah congressional delegation.
"The BLM should be commended for starting a process to protect these newly-inventoried lands until Congress can act to give them permanent protection," said Pride Eaton. The public hearing process that will follow is expected to take about two years.
Copyright 1999, Environmental News Network, All Rights Reserved
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