Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Big Extractors Salivate over Utah Wilderness

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Big Extractors Salivate over Utah Wilderness

Article excerpt

Two definitions of wilderness are competing for public support:

* In the 1964 Wilderness Act and the 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act, wilderness is seen as nationally protected land meant to be "untrammeled by man." The 1976 legislation covers 270 million acres. The two bills reflect the conservationist ethic found in the writings of Aldo Leopold, John Muir and most recently Edward O. Wilson, who wrote in the 1992 book The Diversity of Life that wilderness is "all the land and communities of plants and animals still unsullied by human

* Pending House and Senate bills (H.R. 1745; S. 884) pushed by Utah's four-member congressional delegation view wilderness as tracts of prime real estate ready to be mined, drilled, stipped, dug up or whatever it takes to build roads, pipelines, pits, reservoirs, communication towers and similar shrines to human mastery of the earth. Which definition prevails will be decided soon, when Congress focuses on the Redrock Wilderness area in southern Utah. In early August, a House committee approved legislation that would set aside only 1.8 million acres out of a 22 million acre expanse under the stewardship of the Bureau of Land Management and the 1976 law.

Redrock Wilderness bills represent the major public lands debate in the current Congress, reminiscent of the fury provoked by the land-grabbing instincts of oil companies in Alaska in the late 1970s.

If successful, the legislation to expose Redrock to commerce would dilute the power of the 1964 Wilderness Act and its restrictions against new road construction, motorized travel, depletion of water reserves needed by wildlife and other negatives.

Opening these 20.2 million acres would mean despoiling some of the nation's most fragile and scenic lands. Steep slick-rock canyons, high cliffs that otter clean-air vistas of 60 miles, 1,000-year-old juniper trees, rare rock formations prehistoric archaeological sites are among the jewels that Utah's politicians want to, serve up to oil, gas and mining, interests. …

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