October 10, 2008

Wilds Panel Adds a New Member

With more than 9 million acres of potential protected wilderness in Utah on the line, the Utah Wilderness Coalition said Thursday that it has added the Natural Resources Defense Council to its executive committee.

"They're going to be great partners working toward the goal of protecting America's red-rock wilderness," said Lawson Legate, senior regional representative of the Sierra Club's Utah chapter.

The committee already includes the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society and the Wasatch Mountain Club. The nonprofit coalition was founded in 1985 mainly as a means of protecting "wilderness values" on Bureau of Land Management areas in Utah. The council's membership consists of over 200 local, regional and national groups interested in preserving wild public lands, focusing on the Colorado Plateau.

For more than 20 years, the coalition has been promoting a proposal to designate millions of acres of public land in Utah as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, created by the 1964 Wilderness Act. As a result of the act, there are now 704 wilderness areas nationwide with more than 107 million acres. Legislation to set aside 9.4 million acres in Utah as protected wilderness was introduced last year by Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y. The late Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah, first introduced a version of the bill in 1989.

"Utah's red-rock canyons are world renowned for their wilderness qualities, but have gone far too long without any real and permanent protection," Defense Council senior policy analyst Amy Mall said.

Last June, the coalition supported a bill in Congress that could result in the BLM acquiring wilderness-quality lands in exchange for giving the state federal land valued for its oil and natural gas potential. The House Natural Resources Committee approved the so- called Utah Recreational Land Exchange Act of 2007.

-- Stephen Speckman

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