Members of the Utah Congressional delegation sent a letter to Department of Interior Sec. Ken Salazar Sept. 8 expressing their unified opposition to his latest effort to include Utah lands in a comprehensive wilderness designation report to Congress.
In a letter sent in response to a June letter from the secretary to each member of the Utah delegation, Salazar asked the legislators to identify "BLM (Bureau of Land Management) public lands where there is strong support in the local community and among elected officials for permanent protection, and that you believe are ready for designation as Wilderness by this Congress."
According to the letter from Salazar, identified lands would be included in an Oct. 15, 2011 report to Congress.
To date, 22 counties, representing 99% of BLM land in Utah, have replied to Utah BLM State Director Juan Palma expressing their desire to not be included in the final report.
In response to the overwhelming opposition from locally elected officials, the Utah delegation sent their letter to reaffirm opposition to the "Bipartisan Wilderness Agenda."
"I do not oppose wilderness," says Utah Congressman Jason Chaffetz (cq). "I support a collaborative, locally driven process of determining land-use designations. The Secretary's recent outreach was appreciated, but his approach is not embraced by Utahans. Utah land should not be included in the department's report."
Utah is a beautiful place, says Sen. Orin Hatch, "with some areas that truly should be protected. But there are also places that don't merit wilderness designation. It is the responsibility of Congress to determine what those areas are. We don't need this administration making any more recommendations on how to do our job. We are doing fine."
Another signer of the letter, Sen. Mike Lee, adds that "the message from Utah's federal, state and local officials could not be clearer. We are not interested in the federal government mandating how Utahans can and cannot use their land."
Congressman Rob Bishop adds that "in order to ensure that the interests and livelihoods of all residents and stakeholders are considered and protected, new land use designations such as wilderness should be initiated at the local level and not out of pressure from Washington. While I appreciate Salazar's willingness to abandon the terrible 'wild lands' proposal, we're still going to insist that our local communities be fully supportive of wilderness designations."
Congressman Jim Matheson says he supports wilderness proposals "that are the result of a grassroots, stakeholder-driven process, which takes time and effort by many participants." He says Interior's wilderness proposal "… is not conducive to a successful outcome."