Grand design in Utah

April 21, 1999

The Boston Globe said in an editorial Monday:

AMERICA's Western landscape is a unique natural asset, dazzling in its grandeur and fragile despite its massive structures, vulnerable to intrusions that disrupt wildlife, terrain and the simple quality of unspoiled vistas. A good program for protecting such lands by designating them as wilderness areas has already helped a lot. It should be extended to other areas in need of a shield against desecration.

Utah is a dramatic case in point. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has been engaged in a diligent cataloging of that state's terrain to nominate it for congressional designation as wilderness. Hundreds of volunteers have assembled photos, descriptions and other data that document 9.1 million acres of wilderness, according to Tom Price, an alliance spokesman.

The federal Bureau of Land Management, which designates candidate areas, conducted a preliminary survey in 1991 that identified 3.7 million acres, and a second survey raised the figure to 5.8 million -- certainly a minimum number for Congress to endorse.

The task will not be easy. The Utah congressional delegation, dismayed by what it sees as loss of economic potential in areas that include coal, gas, oil, timber and minerals, is hostile to the idea. Congress has been loath to add to the 104 million acres (less than 5 percent of total U.S. land area) that have been approved over the past 35 years. All of the land involved is federally owned.

Wilderness designation is a rigorous preservation status. Federal law prohibits not only conspicuously intrusive activities such as mining and oil drilling, but also the construction of roads and dwellings or the use of all-terrain vehicles.

But the benefits exceed the losses. The singular qualities of those natural wonders would be irreversibly damaged by helter-skelter development of the kind that has reshaped other parts of the country. Future generations will thank this one if it guarantees the pristine qualities of these regions.

Pub Date: 4/21/99

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