At the close of what President Obama officially designated "Wilderness Month," the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance released a new poll showing solid support for new wilderness areas on federal lands within the state.
Just over 60 percent of those who expressed an opinion responded that they think 9 million acres or more of federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management should be protected as wilderness. America's Red Rock Wilderness Act includes a little over 9 million acres of BLM land in Utah, and will be the subject of a hearing on Thursday, October 1, 2009 before the U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands.
"These poll results clearly show that there is strong Utah support for protecting the spectacularly scenic places we're so lucky to have here in this state," said Scott Groene. "We can protect these special places while still allowing tens of thousands of dirt roads and off-road vehicle trails. Also, the vast majority of BLM lands would still be available for oil and gas development after Congress passes the Red Rock bill."
The poll was conducted by Dan Jones and Associates, with a standard sample size of 609 respondents and a margin of error of +/- 4.0 percent. Respondents reflected a typical cross-section of Utah's population: 41 percent were Republican, 33 percent Independent and 17 percent Democrats, with 53 percent identifying themselves as very or somewhat conservative. Sixty-one percent were LDS, 53 percent were lifetime residents and 35 percent had lived here 10 years or more. Respondents were also from all over the state, with 38 percent from Salt Lake County, 19 percent from Utah County, 11 percent from Davis County, and 24 percent from the rest of the state.
Wilderness may be designated on federal public lands which are, among other things, of 5,000 acres or more in size and, in the words of the Wilderness Act, "untrammeled by man," and which retain their "primeval character and influence, without permanent improvement of human habitation."
According to SUWA wilderness areas are by no means closed to public use. They are open for a wide range of recreational uses, including hiking, backpacking, boating, and hunting. In fact, Americans take between 16 and 35 million trips to wilderness each year on their own or with a guide to hike, backpack, camp, climb mountains, ride horses, ski, raft, canoe, take pictures, view wildlife, stargaze and engage in other activities. See http://www.wilderness.net/index.cfm?fuse=NWPS&sec=values. Protecting large wilderness blocks also provides protection for wildlife and habitat, water resources, and creates a cushion against the devastating impacts of climate change.
Additionally, wilderness areas are also open to livestock grazing, and land managers may also use a wide variety of traditional wildfire fighting tools and strategies as long as they use the minimum tool necessary to be effective. Wilderness areas are protected, however, from the destructive impacts of off-road vehicle use, new oil and gas drilling, logging and new roads.