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Southern Utah is an area that seems to always remain embroiled in a bitter, very vocal and public land battle. It didn't start with President Clintons' creation of the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, but that action brought much of the battle into the news lately. But prior to that, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance had been working dilligently to close millions of acres of Southern Utah to all forms of mechanized travel. This fight started in the mid-80's when a Bureau of Land Management inventory of public lands in Utah came up with a total of about 2.7 million acres of land in Utah that they felt should be classified as Wilderness. Many felt that his inventory was done poorly, that the results were wrong and that the BLM was basically totally clueless. An organization was formed, the Utah Wilderness Coalition, and their contention was that roughly 5.1 million acres of Utah should be classified as wilderness. Not much later, they revised their number to 5.7 million acres. 5.7 million acres is said to be the absolute correct number, non-negotiable by the Wilderness advocates.
In 1989, Utah congressman Wayne Owens presented America's Redrock Wilderness Bill, formalizing the fight to make 5.7 million acres the final number for this wilderness classification.
In 1993, New York Congressman Maurice Hinchey assumed sponsorship of this this resolution, known officially as H.R. 1500.
In 1995, Governor Leavitt announced plans to work with Utah congressional representatives to present H.R. 1745 which called for 1.8 millions acres to recieve wilderness classification.
In 1996, Clinton's creation of the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument included 1.3 million acres of the land that SUWA wants protected but the battle continued.
In the summer of 1998, SUWA announces that the original "final" number of 5.7 million acres had now grown to 9.1 million acres, based on their own inventory. They took their case on the road, presenting public meetings in Utah as well as Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver and Atlanta. Their claim wass that public support for wilderness designation of their 9.1 million acre number was overwhelming.
In 1999 the BLM released their revised inventory, and restated their wilderness designation number at 5.8 million acres. Hmm, pretty close the original "final" SUWA number of 5.7 million acres, don't you think? Interesting how SUWA raised their "final" number to 9.1 when it began to look as if the BLM was going to meet their initial request. We'd have to say we think there's a bit of political wrangling going on with both of the major parties mixed up in this debate.
This fight seems to be far from settled. The original "America's Red Rock Wilderness Act" that was originally presented in 1989 is reintroduced every two years as each new Congress takes their seat. You can read the House Version or the Senate Version if you would like to see the text of these bills. As the new Obama Administration takes office, we're sure that everyone will be lined up ready to lobby for their positions on this one. You can sit around and do nothing, or get involved and have a say in this process.