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Washington • Former Sen. Bob Bennett plans to consult with The Wilderness Society to reproduce a much-touted law he shepherded while in office that brought together environmentalists, developers and local officials in a landmark deal preserving hundreds of thousands of acres in southwestern Utah.
Bennett, who formed his own consulting firm in January after leaving his 18-year Senate perch, said Monday he formed a working relationship with the environmental group and has been asked to help it replicate his effort elsewhere.
"I'm hoping that we can, over the next few years, see this whole wilderness [controversy] thing calm down and see itself resolved," the Utah Republican said. "Too many people on both sides of the controversy have a vested interested in keeping the controversy going."
Bennett, in tandem with Rep. Jim Matheson, D-Utah, helped settle a long battle between those aiming to preserve open space in Washington County and those seeking to develop areas in one of the nation's fastest-growing locales.
The final bill, which drew support from all sides, set aside 256,000 acres for protection while opening up other areas for development. Other local officials including those from San Juan, Piute and Emery counties soon entered into conversations about their own bills modeled on the Washington County measure.
Interior Department Secretary Ken Salazar has said he is a big fan of such an effort and pointed to it as a model in working out wilderness agreements.
Wilderness Society President Bill Meadows, who worked closely with Bennett on the Washington County bill, says the former senator can provide a bridge to unite groups that may not otherwise engage in discussions.
"He can open some doors; he can offer us some opportunities and keep groups together," Meadows said, noting that effort extends beyond Utah to other areas with possible wilderness.
Meadows says his environmental group and Bennett may have not always seen eye to eye and still may not on various issues but that this is one "where I think we have shared values and shared goals, and we can work together and make things happen."
For his part, Bennett notes that his work for the society doesn't mean he backs everything the group does. He adds it's also "safe to say that they don't believe in all the things I believe in either."
Bennett says he has signed no formal papers with The Wilderness Society, and he won't lobby Congress on its behalf he's restricted from any lobbying of Congress for two years but that his consulting firm does employ lobbyists who will work on the issue.
In addition to his consulting firm, Bennett has taken on a slew of assignments since leaving office, including working with the University of Utah's Hinckley Institute of Politics, the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center and the massive law firm of Arent Fox.