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Front Page » April 14, 2009 » Opinion » The Wasatch Behind: Lost in the wilderness
Published 1,925 days ago

The Wasatch Behind: Lost in the wilderness


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By TOM MCCOURT
Guest contributor

With our nation's economy caving in around our ears, and with our president on a victory tour of Europe, it was easy to miss the latest wilderness land grab here at home. There was almost nothing about it in the news, but on March 30, President Obama signed the biggest wilderness bill since Bill Clinton's Grand Staircase Escalante slight-of-hand deal in 1994. The new law "creates" two million acres of wilderness across the nation, including 256,000 acres in Utah's Washington County.

Utah Senator Bob Bennett (the guy who voted for the illegal alien amnesty bill) and Congressman Jim Matheson, both stood behind the president and smiled proudly as the new wilderness bill was signed. Orrin Hatch voted for the bill, too. The law removed a quarter of a million Utah acres from any chance of energy or mineral development in favor of protecting the desert tortoise and scenic vistas near Zion National Park. It also makes the Virgin River Utah's first "wild and scenic river," a designation that creates a 166-mile long wilderness corridor.

Bennett and Matheson are proud as punch. They helped write the Utah part of the bill. In fact, Bennett calls it, "The most important natural resource bill I have introduced in my senate career." And then he says, "I hope this bill will be a blueprint for future public lands bills in the west."

Hold onto your hat Emery County, here it comes.

Bennett's blueprint for the future is a way of cutting deals that trade wilderness for urban development. In this latest land deal, the green people got a large block of wilderness, and in exchange, the city of St. George got a tract of federal land they can use to, "help the city grow." That means we traded public domain for land a few privileged individuals can make millions subdividing.

The trade also gave Park City "some federal land" to "protect as green space." Protecting green space in this instance means protecting real estate values by creating a green belt to help keep the riff-raff out. The city of Bountiful also got "some forest land" to develop; and then a parcel near Brian Head Ski Resort was set-aside for the Boy Scouts.

According to the Deseret News, "The bill also authorizes the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to sell excess BLM lands in the county that are not considered environmentally sensitive and to use the proceeds to buy other sensitive lands there."

Excuse me, but if all BLM lands not considered "environmentally sensitive" are "excess" lands that can be traded or sold to buy wilderness lands, this is a land developer's dream and an invitation to lock up all of Southern Utah. I'm sure Bennett's big business buddies and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance people are all licking their chops.

Who loses in this deal? The little people, of course; those who have enjoyed our public lands for recreation, hunting and fishing, camping, picnics, and weekend family outings for the past 150 years. We lose natural resources and jobs, too. Utah Representatives Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffets both voted against the bill saying it locks up too much land that can never be developed for oil, gas, or coal production. Heaven knows our state and nation need the energy, jobs, and tax revenues that are lost forever in wilderness.

And the environmental lobby is never satisfied. On April 3, only four days after the latest wilderness bill was signed, SUWA got Illinois Senator Dick Durbin and New York Rep. Maurice Hinchey to sponsor a much bigger wilderness bill that will lock up nine million more acres in Utah, if passed. They've tried this one before, and they just might get it passed this time with all the strange things happening in government lately.

Emery County is a prime target. The greenies are lusting for the San Rafael Swell. Maybe we can all "come together" like Bennett says and trade the Swell for some "excess" federal lands near Park City or Robert Redford's Sundance Ski Resort. Or maybe we can trade the Swell for a few hundred acres near Thanksgiving Point, or a section or two near Moab where the rich and famous can build a few more million-dollar summer homes with great views. The possibilities are endless.

For the rest of us, maybe the BLM can be persuaded to save a few "excess" acres to build a few fenced and posted "people pastures" like the one at Temple Mountain. If we set idly by and let this happen without a fight, it's all we deserve.

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