Group calls for more wilderness in forests

Jan. 21, 2004

By Brent Israelsen
The Salt Lake Tribune

A Utah environmental group on Tuesday unveiled a plan calling for federal lawmakers to designate wilderness on about 40 percent of Utah's national forests.
The Salt Lake City-based Utah Environmental Congress said it believes 3.3 million acres of land in the six national forests in Utah should receive wilderness status, in which development and vehicles are prohibited.
The wilderness would be an addition to 800,000 acres that were set aside under the Utah Wilderness Act of 1984.
Most of those acres are in the higher elevations of Utah's mountains and include the 276,000-acre High Uintas Wilderness Area.
The Utah Environmental Congress proposal is focused on the forests' lower-elevation lands, many of them bordering the wilderness designated in 1984.
The proposal "was crafted with the primary objective of protecting watersheds and important wildlife habitat that's truly threatened," states the group's announcement.
The group's wilderness proposal is significantly larger than the Forest Service's recommendation.
For example, the 1.2 million-acre Wasatch-Cache National Forest has recommended two new wilderness areas totaling 53,000 acres. By contrast, the Utah Environmental Congress proposes 16 wilderness areas in the forest totaling 336,000 acres.

The environmentalists' proposal to date has little political backing and probably will go nowhere in the foreseeable future.
"This [Utah wilderness debate] is now getting beyond ridiculous," said Mark Walsh, associate director of the Utah Association of Counties, which opposes large wilderness proposals.
The Utah Environmental Congress' proposal is based on a five-year effort by its activists to map and identify unspoiled areas managed by the U.S. Forest Service that qualify for special protection under the nearly 40-year-old Wilderness Preservation Act.
It is separate, however, from a larger effort long under way by the Utah Wilderness Coalition, which proposes 9.1 million acres of wilderness on lands administered by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The coalition, led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, has enlisted more than 160 co-sponsors for a bill now pending in Congress.



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