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10/02/2009

Hearing on Red Rocks Wilderness Bill Signals a Huge Shift in Utah's Wilderness Rhetoric

Yesterday, the House of Representatives held a subcommittee hearing in Washington, DC on America's Red Rock Wilderness Act (HR 1925).  That bill has been in the making for 20 years and the very fact that it finally had a hearing in the Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands (part of the House Natural Resources Committee) is a major accomplishment.  The hearing brought much-needed attention to the bill, which would protect 9 million acres in Utah as wilderness.  It would protect large swaths of critical land from oil and gas development and rampant destruction from off-road vehicles.

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As expected, the five federal lawmakers from Utah showed up to express their opposition to the bill.  However, the most significant part of the hearing was that the delegation agreed there were spectacular lands in Utah that needed protection.  Their stated concern is that it should not come as a statewide approach from outside of Utah.  As a state that has been historically opposed to wilderness designation, this shift must be duly noted.  This is the first time in recent years that Utah lawmakers have openly discussed the best way to go about protecting lands and wilderness as opposed to discussing whether to do it at all.  And, as a Salt Lake Tribune article about the hearing mentions, a recent poll found that 60% of Utahns support protection of the 9 million acres of wilderness.

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