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Letter to the Editor: Facts support wilderness

By Sun Advocate

I moved to Utah in 1990 because of its unique natural qualities. I’m no athlete, but I’ve still been able to explore much of Utah’s wild lands and have even discovered a natural bridge. I’ve also found a lot of misrepresentation, propaganda, and a woeful lack of facts surrounding our land usage debates. I would like to address some of these issues:
Myth: Wilderness is exclusionary. Fact: You cannot drive overland (off a designated road) in a non-wilderness area; you have to leave your motorized transport to enjoy the land not seen from the road, the same restrictions as wilderness. Fact: 90 percent of proposed wilderness is within three miles of existing roadways.
Fact: There are over 100,000 miles of existing, valid dirt roads to enjoy our desert lands from.
Myth: Wilderness locks up huge amounts of oil, which we need. Fact: A 2003 USGS report identifies a five-day supply of fuel underneath Utah, with less than 2 percent of that in areas with wilderness characteristics.
Fact: We don’t need the oil; we covet the oil. Conservation and a responsible energy policy would immediately negate our “need” for further oil exploration and extraction.
Myth: Wilderness would remove traditional users (grazing) from the land. Fact: Grazing is allowed in wilderness.
Fact: Persistent drought, low prices, and being in a desert have a negative impact on ranching.
Myth: Wilderness will hurt rural economies. Fact: Resource employment and revenue have been rapidly declining since the early 1980’s and are due to less demand, increased productivity, and industry trends (all done without any wilderness designation).
Fact: Out of state companies take their revenue out of state with them.
Fact: The latest oil lease sales (11/24/03) by the BLM on a total of 36,000 acres netted the state less than $500,000 (Salt Lake Tribune 12/2/03). That’s less than $14 per acre that the state receives as compensation for the destruction of some of our most pristine public lands.
Fact: The limited oil represents short-term revenue at best; after the fuel is gone there won’t be any economic base, the lands will not be left in a condition that people will travel to visit.
Fact: Utah’s natural areas drew 16 million visitors in 2002; travelers spent $4.15 billion and generated $332 million in tax revenue (Utah Travel Council).
Myth: These public lands should be locally controlled. Fact: This would be like allowing only New Yorkers to have a say in what happens to the Statue of Liberty; would we let them decide to put a Yankees cap on her head? No, that would be ridiculous. So what’s the difference? Proximity does not equal ownership; national interest should be the compelling management factor.
Myth: Wilderness proponents are extremists. Fact: More than half of Utah’s wilderness quality lands have been degraded since the Wilderness Act passed in 1964.
Fact: Citizen groups have documented nine million acres and even the BLM inventoried almost six million acres of wilderness quality lands managed by the BLM in our state.
Fact: There are only 27,700 acres of designated wilderness on BLM lands, with less than three million acres being managed to prevent impairment.
Fact: Poll after poll across Utah and the nation have shown conclusively that Americans want more wilderness protection, not less, and they support Wilderness designation of our public lands.
As a citizen, I am outraged with the callous attitude our “elected” officials have toward our public land. I even question why there must be an economic motive for protecting these jewels. Why do we ignore the value of things like a soul, re-invigorated by a quiet visit with our host, or a child’s fascination at finding something unobservable in a human dominated environment?
We have in Utah some of the most incredible lands on the planet; it would be immoral to squander these gifts from our creator.
It’s time for congress to do its job and pass America’s Redrock Wilderness Act.

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