Utah counties aren't wilderness-friendly

  Dear HCN,

Your headline, "Counties May Shrink Utah Wilderness' (HCN, 3/20/95), sounds downright cheerful. A more accurate headline would have read, "Counties Will Obliterate Wilderness."

Here in Iron County, Commissioner R.L. Gardner told the press before the first hearing, that "I personally feel that there is no need to set aside more land." He was not familiar with the wording of the Wilderness Act. County Commissioner Pug Urie was so befuddled that he told me Utah Governor Leavitt wanted him to "take away everything from the Act."

At our two local hearings citizens were split nearly evenly on the issue: about 20 for wilderness, 24 against. Yet the commissioners said they'd go ahead and send the governor their own recommendation, without first showing it to citizens: Hence, the hearings were meaningless. People against wilderness said they were worried about outsiders, Indians, water rights and bureaucrats.

What bothers me most is that the public spent $10 million doing this 10 years ago. BLM started inventory and scoping in 1982; the Utah BLM Statewide Wilderness draft EIS came out in 1985; the public commented at 17 hearings and in 4,500 letters; the final EIS came out in 10 volumes in 1990. Yes, that environmental impact statement was deeply flawed: Countless wilderness study areas had been dropped because developers didn't want wilderness. Yet I honestly expected that they would be restored and that a fine Utah Wilderness Bill would be presented to the President. I am such a fool that it never crossed my mind that the EIS process, which must have cost taxpayers several million dollars, would end up under a wet Sagebrush Rebellion cow-patty.

The bottom line is, Utah's incomparable red rock wilderness belongs to all of you Americans out there. Don't leave its fate in the hands of county officials.

Valerie P. Cohen

Cedar City, Utah

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