This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2011, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Wild Lands, the controversial policy announced by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar just before Christmas, ordered up a fresh inventory of lands having potential wilderness value under the 1964 Wilderness Act. During budget reconciliation, though, Congress defunded the policy so the secretary rescinded the order. This left the Wild Lands policy stranded.
Frank Hugelmeyer of the Outdoor Industry Association lamented this decision in his June 5 Tribune op-ed ("Utah leaders betraying recreation industry," Opinion), criticizing state leadership for not backing outdoor industries enough. While I agree that the outdoor industry has been terrific for our state, I disagree with the notion that Utah's leaders don't care about wilderness or the outdoor industry.
The Outdoor Industry Association has been a boon to Utah. It brings in millions of dollars twice each year with its conventions and great manufacturers, like Black Diamond Equipment, to the state. Outdoor retailers have advanced many positive and economic benefits. Their dream of a Utah with a clean outdoors is more than worthy; it is visionary.
But there is more to the story the reality of wilderness designation. I have worked hard to protect Utah's real wilderness for 25 years as a mayor, a private citizen and now as Gov. Gary Herbert's senior adviser on the environment. I have observed how the deep schism between wilderness advocates and economic development enthusiasts has stymied almost all wilderness efforts on Bureau of Land Management land.
There are two exceptions. The Cedar Mountains Wilderness area brought both sides together, though much of the motivation was to block radioactive storage. But the sun rose with the Washington County Land Bill of 2009. Environmentalists and county commissioners came together to advance a model law and, more importantly, precious wilderness.
After Washington County, enthusiasm sparked efforts in San Juan, Piute, and Emery counties. Today, San Juan and Piute are close to compromises setting aside large wilderness areas. In fact, San Juan's is over 1 million acres.
For negotiations to succeed on land bills, though, both sides must trust the outcomes. So when the Salazar Wild Lands policy was issued last December leaving out local involvement and bypassing congressional approval commissioners in these counties asked the question, "Why should I trust this process when even Washington County could be reviewed again under Wild Lands and we lose certainty." Broken trust kills any process.
I understand Hugelmeyer's point that we need to continue the wilderness inventory. But the BLM need look no further than its own Resource Management Plans, which were worked on for five years at considerable expense and with input from all advocates. Those plans contain the very target that Wild Lands was set up to attain a listing of potential wilderness land.
Then there is the question of real wilderness. Is it a good idea for wilderness groups to pay the price of self-righteousness by fighting for years for the ultimate victory and then losing? No victory in America is made without compromise. That is what democracy is all about. By working together those who want economic development and those dedicated to land protection we can make progress toward both goals.
If we don't have real wilderness, we face economic development where it should not be. In short, we lose the value of the lands we need to protect a chip at a time, and our lands eventually will have no wilderness characteristics at all.
The county-by-county process works. The ill-defined Wild Lands doctrine, no matter how well-intended, was killing the effort.
Ted Wilson is a senior adviser on the environment to Gov. Gary Herbert and chair of the Governor's Balanced Resource Council.