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Front Page » October 6, 2009 » Carbon County News » What would the Red Rocks Bill affect?
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What would the Red Rocks Bill affect?

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The Red Rocks Wilderness Bill that is before a congressional committee would change much of the way many Utahns live if it passes. How those changes would affect each individual depends on their connection to federal lands, but inevitably it would affect every person living in the state in one way or another.

Presently there are millions of acres of land managed by the Bureau of Land Management that is considered multiple use. That means those pieces of land can be used under controlled circumstances for recreation, energy development and for agriculture, usually in the form of ranching. While many activities under the label of wilderness would still be allowed, many would also be banned from the lands placed under that name.

The definition of wilderness has as many meanings as there are organizations trying to promote the bill or those that are fighting its adoption.

Under the Wilderness Act of 1964, which is pretty much the basis of all the legislation since that time, wilderness is described as the following.

"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value."

This mouthful of words has, since enacted, has created great dissension amongst parties lobbying for wilderness and those that wish to keep wilderness designations away from lands they believe should not be deemed wilderness. The parts about being "untrammeled by man" and "the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable" are two of the definitions parts that have been particularly debated.

But outside the definition, and the fact that the Obama administration through the Bureau of Land Management withdrew their support for the Red Rock Wilderness Bill in its present form last week, what would happen if those areas designated in the bill were to become wilderness.

Wilderness areas are said to be set aside to provide opportunities for primitive recreation and solitude. Hiking, horseback riding, photography, rafting, canoeing, kayaking, skiing, bird watching, and wildlife viewing are some of the activities allowed in wilderness areas. Hunting and fishing are also allowed in wilderness, except in national parks.

However, mechanized vehicles and mechanisms are not allowed in wilderness areas. This means that chain saws, trucks, cars, bulldozers, off-road vehicles, helicopters, and other motorized equipment cannot be used within wilderness areas except under emergency conditions. Also human powered mechanical devices, such as mountain bikes, cannot be used either. Under the Wilderness Act, mining operations and livestock grazing are permitted to continue in wilderness areas where such operations existed prior to wilderness designation. Where public travel by motorboat or aircraft was established prior to wilderness designation, these methods of travel are still allowed because they were "grandfathered in."

Agencies may maintain existing trails in wilderness, but generally cannot build new ones. The use of wheelchairs, including motorized wheelchairs, is permitted in wilderness areas when the wheelchair is a medical necessity.

Grazing is allowed to continue at levels consistent with sound resource management if it existed prior to the designation of the area as a wilderness.

Basically, no new development of any kind of human construction nor transportation may be added in wilderness areas. Mineral extraction of any kind, unless grandfathered in cannot be pursued. This would also eliminate any kind of easements for crossing an area with such things as pipelines or power lines.

What it takes away or adds to an individuals ability to use the public land that wilderness is designated upon is dependent upon that individual and their needs or desires. It would restrict many activities in those areas set for wilderness under the Red Rock Bill that are presently practiced there.

Wilderness designation would also end most business enterprises of most kinds that may want to use the area, particularly in the realm of mineral or energy development.

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October 6, 2009
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