Democrats in House call for pro-wildlands policy

Wilderness • Utah's congressional delegation is opposed to the plan.
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Washington • A group of Democrats is asking President Barack Obama to revive his wildlands policy, which is opposed by Utah's entire federal delegation.

The letter, sent by 44 Democrats, including Reps. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., and Diana DeGette, D-Colo., asks Obama to "firmly oppose" any future efforts by Congress to restrict the policy, which would allow the Interior Department to once again protect land by deeming it a "wilderness study area."

Republicans, led by Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, blocked the wildlands policy last year by stripping its financing in a budget bill.

Bishop said the letter "only further emphasizes the importance of ensuring that new land designations be done through an open and public congressional process and not by bureaucratic fiat."

Utah lawmakers have been skeptical of new wilderness designations that stop development and potential drilling for natural gas and other resources.

But the Democrats who signed the letter, sent Tuesday, argued the policy would protect "cherished natural icons from development."

"Without the wildlands policy, many of our nation's pristine wild and public lands remain at risk," the letter reads. "The policy is popular with the millions of Americans who are committed to the preservation of our wilderness heritage and we strongly support it."