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What is Congress Doing?
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Frequently Asked Questions: What is Congress Doing?

When was America’s Redrock Wilderness Act first introduced in Congress?

In 1986 after years of field research by scores of citizen volunteers, Utah conservationists announced a Citizens’ Wilderness Proposal to protect over five million acres of BLM land in Utah within the National Wilderness Preservation System. In 1989, the Citizens’ Proposal was introduced in Congress as H.R. 1500 by then Utah Congressman Wayne Owens.

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What about other Utah wilderness bills in Congress?

In 1995, the Utah Congressional delegation introduced H.R. 1745 in the House of Representatives and companion bill S. 884 in the Senate. Called the "Utah Public Lands Management Act," these bills proposed to protect less than 2 million acres of Utah BLM lands as wilderness. These bills contained precedent-setting language that would have "hard released" for development wild lands outside the 2 million acres.

The bills were temporarily defeated by outspoken environmental activists and concerned politicians. In the spring of 1997, the Utah delegation attached an unrelated "rider" onto the Flood Relief Bill, which was intended to give assistance to Midwest flood victims. Their "Pave The Parks" rider would have legislatively re-defined what constitutes a "road" or "highway" across public lands. If their measure would have passed, cattle trails almost any tire tracks would have qualified as "highways" thus thwarting efforts by conservationists to designate wilderness on most BLM lands. This absurd rationale was rejected by the American people and ultimately, by the Congress, as an attack on America’s public lands.

In the fall of 1998, the Utah delegation moved to enact a bill for just 1 of the 11 regions of wilderness in the state, the San Rafael Swell. Much like their horrible bill two years earlier, this bill would have eliminated many currently protected Wilderness Study Areas and would have not solved the long contentious debate statewide.

In 1999 Rep. Jim Hansen introduced a bill for the western region of Utah. The Utah National Parks and Public Lands Wilderness Act, H.R. 3035 attempts to undermine the 1964 Wilderness Act by:

  • Protecting less than 40% of Utah’s Great Basin/Mojave Desert regions as wilderness
  • Providing no protection for water rights necessary for rare streams and wetlands
  • Allowing the Air Force unprecedented special rights to use wilderness areas, including motorized access to install equipment
  • Shutting down the current BLM effort to designate additional WSA’s in the region
  • Rolling back existing protection for WSA designations
This bill was tabled during the 106th Congress.

And last but not least, was another so called "conservation" bill for the San Rafael Swell region of central Utah. The San Rafael Western Legacy District and National Conservation Act, H.R. 3605 was negotiated by then Secretary Babbitt with Emery County officials and introduced by Rep. Chris Cannon. Masked in the façade of a National Conservation Area, this bill designated zero wilderness and did nothing to protect the fragile landscape from off-road vehicles. On June 7, 2000 the House voted overwhelmingly to expand the proposed conservation area to protect all the Swell’s wilderness. However, rather than allow Congress to pass the improved version of the bill, the bill’s sponsors yanked it from the floor.

The Citizens’ Proposal has been championed in the House as "America’s Redrock Wilderness Act" by Rep. Maurice Hinchey of New York and in the Senate by Richard Durbin of Illinois. America’s Redrock Wilderness Act would protect as wilderness over 9 million acres of the 23 million acres of BLM lands in Utah.

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Where can I find more detail on these bills?

Additional information on America’s Redrock Wilderness Act and any other piece of legislation pertaining to Utah’s public lands can be found at the SUWA web site, www.suwa.org.

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What is "hard release"?

When Congress addresses the wilderness issue it almost always designates more areas than the BLM recommends. But Congress also usually leaves undesignated some lands that are suitable as wilderness. Specific provisions in wilderness bills, referred to as release language, deal with the management of lands that are not designated as wilderness.

Extractive industries, through their supporters in Congress, have tried to include hard release language in wilderness bills that tells the agency that lands left undesignated cannot be managed as de facto wilderness. In some forms of hard release language, Congress would actually direct land managing agencies to allow activities that would impair wilderness qualities of the lands left undesignated. In other forms, Congress would tell the agency it can never again inventory potential wilderness as part of its planning process, nor recommend any additional land for designation by Congress.

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How can we get rid of anti-wilderness politicians?

The Utah Wilderness Coalition is a 501c(3) organization which can not become directly involved in partisan politics. We can, however, educate the public as to statements made and actions taken by politicians in office on Utah wilderness issues. It is perhaps time, now more than ever, for politicians to listen to the voice of the overwhelming majority of people in Utah, not just to rural county commissioners and special interests in the extractive industries. If you wish to see changes in officials elected to office, it is important that you become involved, actively support causes that are important to you, vote, and encourage others to do so. Indeed, it is only by your actions that change will be accomplished.

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