by William Corcoran
William Corcoran is a Sierra Club activist from Southern California who wants his
daughter to one day enjoy Utah wilderness.
Nothing motivates an activist more than walking over threatened land. Last fall I was
part of a group of Sierra Club members who did just that. We came from Illinois, Indiana,
New York, New Jersey, California, Texas and New Mexico to join a Sierra Club activist
outing to roadless areas in Utah that will be permanently opened to development if
legislation introduced by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) and Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah) becomes
law. While we admired Utah's autumnal foliage and enjoyed cool evenings graced by a waxing
moon, we shared ideas about fighting S. 884 and H.R. 1745, bills that threaten Utah
wilderness and the 1964 Wilderness Act itself.
One of our leaders was longtime Utah activist Jim Catlin, who coordinated the
preparation of a 5.7 million-acre citizens' wilderness proposal that was introduced in
Congress last fall by Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) as H.R. 1500, America's Redrock
Wilderness Act. Catlin detailed why so many remote, beautiful and ecologically important
areas are stripped of protection under Hatch and Hansen's bill. Utah-based Sierra Club
field representative Lawson LeGate helped Jim explain the political and administrative
history of Utah wilderness.
A theme soon emerged from their stories. The Utah delegation wants two-thirds of some
of America's greatest wilderness left unprotected in order to preserve the right of mining
and energy companies to develop coal we don't need and uranium we don't want. They also
aim to expand grazing "improvements" such as chaining, which rips out miles of
pinyon and juniper forests to provide cattle forage.
All over Utah, we saw roadless areas held in a death grip by development schemes
dreamed up by state politicians, county commissioners, extractive industries and the
Bureau of Land Management. By encouraging the least sustainable uses of these fragile
lands, Utah's delegation is writing off their state's need for a stable rural economy.
Wilds Worth Saving
At the San Rafael Knob, the highest point in the San Rafael Swell -- an area targeted
for development by H.R. 1745/S. 884 -- we walked roads that were bladed by uranium miners
in a successful ploy to force this area's deletion from wilderness consideration. We
explored the high benchlands at the base of Bryce Canyon National Park, which H.R. 1745/S.
884 would delete from wilderness protection because of plans to strip mine for coal and
chain pinyon and juniper stands for cattle forage -- all within view of the park.
At the Coral Pink Sand Dunes and the adjacent Moquith Mountain we saw plentiful
evidence of off-road vehicle damage. Under H.R. 1745/S. 884, rare plant communities in the
area would receive no protection from such damage. Heading west, we visited Utah's portion
of the Great Basin Ecoregion, where we found tree-lined creeks and jagged granite slabs,
outstanding vistas and an exhilarating remoteness. Utah's delegation aims to open
two-thirds of the wilderness here to mining.
Hansen and Hatch's legislation threatens wilderness across the nation. Their nominal
wilderness areas would allow dams, roads, motor vehicles and industrial infrastructure.
Ultimately, they mean this to be a national precedent for challenging the Wilderness Act
Up to Top