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Front Page » October 15, 2009 » Carbon County News » Utah representatives express views on Red Rock Wilderness...
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Utah representatives express views on Red Rock Wilderness bill


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When the Red Rock Wilderness Bill was up for review by a Congressional committee last week, Congressman Jim Matheson and Senators Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett expressed their views concerning the measure. Here are their views as was released by their individual offices at the time.

Congressman Jim Matheson

Congressman Jim Matheson said last week that the way forward on wilderness designation in Utah is to follow the bipartisan model he helped establish with the Washington County lands bill signed into law this year.

Matheson testified at a House subcommittee hearing on America's Red Rock Wilderness Act-HR 1925. Matheson told the panel he does not support the legislation.

"In Utah, there is probably no more contentious public lands issue than the establishment of wilderness areas," Matheson said. "Much of Utah is land that has wild character. But discussions about wilderness in Utah have usually taken on a polarized dynamic that has led to a great amount of emotional rhetoric and very little progress."

Matheson notes that recent wilderness designations in Utah have resulted from a collaborative, inclusive process where all stakeholders' views are considered. He pointed out successful, bipartisan wilderness bills involving Oregon, Idaho, and Colorado have become law through a consensus-driven process.

Matheson said he was encouraged by the testimony of Bureau of Land Management Director Bob Abbey. Abbey testified that the current Administration favors wilderness legislation that is "geographically-focused" such as county by county, or perhaps a regional proposal, such as Utah's West desert.

"Wilderness needs to be home-grown," said Matheson. "It cannot be the work of only one group of stakeholders, no matter how extensive or sincere. I am committed to being a partner with all stakeholders in a collaborative effort that dissolves gridlock and provides a legacy for future generations."

Senator Orrin Hatch

Sen. Orrin Hatch took issue with the Red Rock Wilderness Act of 2009 last week, calling the proposed legislation a "monument to a failed approach to wilderness designation."

Addressing the House Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, Hatch called the bill, H.R. 1925, the work of special-interest groups who seem more intent on raising money than producing more wilderness. The senator further that noted none of the bill's sponsors or cosponsors is from Utah and added they have neglected to consult with Utahns, the very people who would be most impacted by legislation.

"The authors of the legislation were careful to name it 'America's Red Rock Wilderness Act,' not 'Utah's Red Rock Wilderness Act,' even though the bill's only purpose is to designate more than one-sixth of my state as formal wilderness," Hatch said. "According to the authors of this legislation, Utahns have no special claim to those nine million acres within our state's boundaries. After all, those are federal lands, and they belong to all Americans, they argue.

"Well, there may be some truth to that point of view, but it's an intentionally simplistic view, and any member of Congress with federal lands within his or her district will quickly recognize that," Hatch added. "And I would be surprised if there were many members of Congress who would not take at least some offense at a proposal to set aside a sixth of their state or district without their consultation or input."

Hatch's complete statement to the House Resources subcommittee follows:

Mr. Chairman I am grateful for the opportunity to address this committee with regard to H.R. 1925, America's Red Rock Wilderness Act of 2009. I also want to thank the witnesses from Utah who have come to provide testimony today on both sides of this legislation. In particular, I thank Lieutenant Governor Greg Bell of Utah. His views are of significant value to us during the consideration of this proposal. We will also hear from Carbon County Commissioner John Jones; Peter Metcalf, the president of Black Diamond Equipment; Bryson Garbett, a former Utah State Legislator; and Rocky Anderson, the former mayor of Salt Lake City.

First off, I note the title of the bill under consideration. The authors of the legislation were careful to name it "America's Red Rock Wilderness Act," not Utah's Red Rock Wilderness Act, even though the bill's only purpose is to designate more than one-sixth of my state as formal wilderness. According to the authors of this legislation, Utahns have no special claim to those nine million acres within our state's boundaries. After all, Mr. Chairman, those are federal lands, and they belong to ALL Americans, they argue. Well, there may be some truth to that point of view, but it's an intentionally simplistic view, and any member of Congress with federal lands within his or her district will quickly recognize that. And I would be surprised if there were many members of Congress who would not take at least some offense at a proposal to set aside a sixth of their state or district without their consultation or input.

It is true that all Americans are stakeholders in the management of our federal lands. But in law and in policymaking, stakeholders are not always equal. It is a basic principle of policymaking that stakeholders should be involved in the formulation of policies that would affect them. And it follows, Mr. Chairman, that the voices of those stakeholders most impacted by legislation should be given the greatest weight. This proposal turns that principle on its head.

Certainly, those Americans who live on and around public lands, and sometimes make their living on them, have the greatest stake in management decisions affecting those lands. It is wrong that this legislation turns a completely deaf ear to these most significant stakeholders.

Year after year, we have seen this legislation introduced in Congress. The bill is monumental in its scope: nine million acres of land within only one state. It would cover an area that is actually larger than a number of states put together. But it's also a monument to an old way of approaching wilderness designation. To be more precise, it's a monument to a failed approach to wilderness designation.

The special interest groups who are behind this bill have raised tens of millions of dollars over the years, with the promise to their donors that the money would be spent to protect important tracts of beautiful red rock in Utah. I've seen some of their past brochures, and to be honest, a lot of the pictures they show are of areas already protected from development. They strategy has been to play to American's emotions, rather than to constructively work to win actual wilderness protection. In fact, all that money and all that effort has produced exactly zero acres of new wilderness in Utah.

Meanwhile, members of the Utah Congressional delegation have done the hard work of doing wilderness the right way. We've listened to all interested parties, and especially to those stakeholders with the most at stake. And by collaboration and inclusion we have had success. And, Mr. Chairman, we continue to seek areas of agreement among broad sets of stakeholders for the designation of more wilderness in our state.

I know that the authors and cosponsors of this legislation - none of which are from Utah - are sincere in their effort to provide protection for important areas in Utah even if they have never seen those areas. To those colleagues who have put their names on this proposal I say: Thanks, but no thanks. I think as a congressional delegation we have proven we can handle the question of wilderness in Utah.

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October 15, 2009
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