Washington County, Utah "wilderness bill" faces much opposition, but could pass

This bill “designates” a lot of wilderness acreage, but it is very deceptive. A good portion of it is in Zion National Park. Wilderness designation is largely redundant there. Much roadless area in the vicinity would remain unprotected.The city of St. George and now sprawling nearby towns is another classic of bad planning and uncontrolled growth, although many of the individual developments are quite lovely, and were even planned to blend with the color of the desert cliffs and slopes.

The only limits to growth have been lack of water. Utah’s “Dixie” as it is called, is serious desert country. Unfortunately the real point of the bill is not wilderness, but privatizing a big chunk of public land so St. George can continue its march over the landscape. The bill would sell public land to pay for the building of a big pipeline all the way across southern Utah to tap Lake Powell in the state’s SE Corner and bring it to Washington County in the SW corner of Beehive State. Utility corridors would be authorized and also massive off road vehicle trail system.

So the real effect of the bill is not protection, but continued development of an energy and water guzzling culture. The looming end of the Lame Duck session of the old Congress may spell the end of this bill in its present form, but there is talk about an omnibus bill for the various “wilderness, with side-payment” bills, as I call them.

Here is the story of the hearing before Senator Larry Craig’s Senate subcommittee. “Dixie land bill faces obstacles. End of session in D.C. is a problem for growth measure for S. Utah.” By Suzanne Struglinski. The Deseret Morning News.

If you want to stop the wasteful use of land and energy and destruction, not the creation of real wilderness, you need to contact your Senator and ask them to oppose the Washington County Growth and Conservation Act.

Here is a detailed alert from SUWA, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Note that the lame duck adjouns for Thanksgiving, so there is probably time to stop it.



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  1. elizabeth Avatar

    I would urge anyone who loves redrock wilderness to check out SUWA and consider joining. I think they do their best to preserve Utah’s spectacular redrock.

  2. kt Avatar

    The reason everyone thinks this Bill is the worst is the way TWS and CAW (Campaign for America’s Wilderness) have spun the others. They have thrown huge amounts of PEW (oil) dollars at creating Bills that are much worse for public lands in White Pine County Nevada (White Pine Bill – where EVERYONE is afraid of taking on Harry Reid – and his public land wheeling and dealing for cronies) , Owyhee County (Owyhee Initiative), ID and Custer County (CIEDRA).

    Why would you throw so much money at these Blls? Look at it not from the diminished acreage and quality of the Wilderness that would be designated under nay one of them, but instead from the outright privatization of public lands (through mandated land disposals and sales) and other less overt privatization measures that the Bills would legislate.

    What is really going on here is that SUWA has done great work generating a national constituency for Utah Wilderness, and has political connections in Congress that will back it up. It is the 600 lb. gorilla that TWS and CAW have to dance around.

    Go to http://www.westernlands.org to see info and summaries on this whole crop of public land giveaway Bills – and how they give away or destroy the public’s ability to have an equal voice in public lands management – through setting up special overseer Boards (the OI) or enshrining a local pork barrel project group’s world view of manipulaiton (the pinyon-juniper killing Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition – fronting for kiling trees to grow cattle for the public land’s livestock industry and to simply latch on to tax dollars to turn over to local interests and seeking funding to become a parallel bureaucracy to and take over some of the functions of BLM – but able to operate and ovrsee tax dollars behind closed doors).

    The least threatend lands get the name “wilderness” slapped on them, other lands get much-diminished protection through inflicting a local crony group on them – or in the case of CIEDRA – altering the mantle of the SNRA – so that lands outside the wilderness bdry signs are subject to further dismantlement of protections.

    Local interests get huge slabs of tax dollars or land or land development as pork, and mechanisms for dealing away the rest.

    This batch of bills is symptomatic of the worst cronyism and privatization aspects of the 109th Congress – and the envtl groups that are lamenting over one Bill while cheering for the three others are helping to carry out this public land and asset theft.

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    I just looked up the membership of the Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition that KT mentions.

    “Key partners.” Rock Mountain Elk Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, City of Ely, Ely Shoshone Tribe, Nevada Association of Counties, Tri-County Weed District, White Pine County Commission, Nevada Department of Agriculture, Nevada Division of Wildlife, Nevada Senator Dean A. Rhoads, State of Nevada Commission for the Preservation of Wild Horses, Red Rock Audubon Society, Nevada Farm Bureau, Society of Range Management – Nevada, Big Horns Unlimited, Nevada Wild Land Seed Producers, Newark/Long Valley Cooperative Weed Management Area, White River Valley Cooperative Weed Management Area, Railroad Valley Cooperative Weed Management Area, Snake Valley Cooperative Weed Management Area, federal agencies, and others.

    Nevada State Senator Dean Roades is famous as the politician who started the anti-public land campaign misnamed the “Sagebrush Rebellion,” back in the late 1970s. Look at this group of anti-conservation radicals — the Farm Bureau, Nevada Cattlemen’s Association, the City of Ely. Bit included too in the mix are the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation and the Nature Conservancy.

    These “conservation” groups have lost their way. I have little doubt KT is right on the mark — this growing string of bills I have referred to as “wilderness with side-payments” is a new device to maintain the dominance of traditional extractive interests. Conservation groups need to get out of this trap.

    I won’t comment on the particular proposals, except that each one gets worse. CIEDRA, the first, in the Boulder-White Clouds of Idaho is a marginally good/bad bill, the side-payments are less, the wilderness is more. Each following bill gets worse.

    Perhaps it is good the privatizers are making their play so fast, because it is more visible.

    Addition: Betsy McFarland, Executive Director, of the Eastern Nevada Landscape Coalition, used to be with the Nevada Cattlemen’s Assocation. She has moved from directing a group with an obvious and specific special interest to a quasi-public organization that gets public funds and operates with almost no transparancy.

  4. Robert Hoskins Avatar

    I think we have to acknowledge that conservation has, by and large, become an industry that is committed to selling a two-dimensional product, NATURE, on the open market. This is particlarly true of the national groups and various regional established groups. I think particularly of the National Wildlife Federation and the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. As such, the so-called conservation community has abandoned the sacred mission of protecting land and wildlife and sustainable human communitdies. This mission has fallen to the many fine but unknown local grass roots groups. It is here, with people who actually inhabit the land, that the leadership and vision for land and wildlife is alive. Perhaps those of us who are more committed to land and wildlife than the conservation industry can find each other and discuss the future.

  5. kt Avatar

    I think we always need to keep questioning ourselves – and ask what is going on behind the scenes, how will any particular proposal affect the larger public lands or public well-being.

    We need to be aware of how politicians can “play” the “listen to the locals” card to dismantle public lands, public lands protections, and open up public assets (land, water, forests – to grow cow grass by killing pinyon-juniper trees, etc.) for private gain or even outright privatization.
    This is what this series of County-by-County wilderness/development/privatization Bills in Nevada and elsewhere is doing. Take the County by County approach. Locals in closed door dealmaking agreed to some Wilderness in exhange for large-scale pillaging – or setting the stage for such pillaging – of public lands and assets.

    White Pine’s predecessor, the Lincoln County wlderness/development Bill, legislated water pipeline rights-of-way to dewater the aquifer underlying Lincoln and White Pine Counties AND portions of eastern Utah – to export water to Las Vegas. Large acreages of public lands – I believe 100,000 acres in Lincoln County (and now over 45,000 acres in White Pine) are to be privatized for development – and in the case of White Pine tha also means for INDUSTRIAL development – that means selling off public lands to facilitate energy development – including coal-fired power plants that will sully the air over the whole region – Utah, Idaho, Yellowstone too.

    Give local interests in most areas of the rural West too much of a say (aka greedy County Commissioners, well-connected public lands ranchers, etc.) and pillaging of the public lands and assets is inevitable.

    It is only the broader public – often – that can save public lands from the threat of short-sighted greedy local interests.

    Fallout from nuclear testing in Nevada rained down on central Idaho. Mercury and soot from large-scale coal-fired power plant development in Nevada will rain down on the region, too. INstead of letting Harry Reid and John Ensign deal away the region’s clean air or other public asset in a complicated “local” Wilderness Bill that gives away water or sets the stage for destruciton of air quality, the full involvement of the public well beyond the local levle would shine the light of day on what is about to transpire. AND it would better enable the local folks who are not in favor of what may be going on to have more of a voice.

    Thanks for bringing this to everyone’s attention. You raise a number of points, each of which needs a comment. The thing that really impressed me it that while Richard Pombo was beaten, and beaten largely because he was perceived as a menace keeping the public lands, “Pomboization” continues on, but now in a new way. The flat-out “sell-off the public land politicians” were largely forced to recant, but they did not repent.

    Now a new method of privatization has opened up, and it isn’t quite the same people, but there’s overlap.

    Nevada is a great worry. As you point out, activities in Nevada have been poisoning surrounding states for years. First it was open air atom bomb tests. Now it is mercury pollution from their many gold pit mines. Now plans are in the works for coal-fired power plants using privatized land and water drawn from desert mountain acquifers. There is no coal in Nevada, but there is clean air–a resource they figure to use up. Coal plants will blow the smoke all over southern Idaho, western Utah and up into the Yellowstone Country.

    Nevada politicians are well placed to do it. Harry Reid is now majority leader of the Senate. Jim Gibbons (Pombo’s co-sponsor for last year’s great land grab) has moved from Congress to governor of Nevada.

    All that talk about Senator Reid’s private land dealings. . . . I don’t know if his explanation is a good one or not, but it’s his public land dealings that need to be watched on behalf of wild country, public lands, and also the health of people in adjacent downwind states.

    Ralph Maughan


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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Ralph Maughan