by John Byrne Barry
The fight to save the redrock canyons and wildlands of southern Utah got a
boost in May when Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a bill to designate
5.7 million acres of the state as wilderness. Despite opposition from Utah's two
senators, Republicans Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, the Illinois freshman agreed
to champion the cause of Utah's wilds in the upper chamber -- a testament to the
effectiveness of the Sierra Club national activist outing program.
The story started in 1995, when two volunteers from the Chicago area, Clayton
Daughenbaugh and Patrick Murphy, joined a dozen other Club members for an
activist outing to visit roadless areas in southern Utah, at that time
threatened by the "anti-wilderness" bills introduced by Hatch and Rep. Jim
Hansen (R-Utah). Participants visited areas targeted for development by mining
and energy companies and learned organizing skills from experienced conservation
Inspired by hiking on the threatened wildlands, Daughenbaugh and Murphy
returned to Illinois, formed a Utah Wilderness Task Force in their chapter with
themselves as co-chairs and set to work building grassroots pressure on Illinois
senators and representatives to sponsor Utah wilderness legislation. One of
those representatives was Durbin, who had already co-sponsored Rep. Maurice
Hinchey's (D-N.Y.) Utah wilderness bill, H.R. 1500, America's Redrock Wilderness
Act. That winter, Durbin announced his plans to run for the Senate in 1996.
"We scheduled two meetings with Durbin," said Daughenbaugh, lands management
chair of the Chicago Group. "The first was an endorsement interview and the
second focused specifically on Utah wilderness. He agreed, if elected, to
introduce a Utah bill -- as chief sponsor if the Democrats regained the Senate,
as part of a group otherwise."
The Club worked to elect Durbin and with the help of the chapter's phone-tree
network, continued to deluge his office with calls and letters supporting Utah
wilderness. In January, Daughenbaugh, Murphy and other task-force members met
with the new senator and urged him to sponsor a Utah bill even though the Senate
remained under Republican control. Durbin visited Utah in April and in May -- a
few weeks after Hinchey reintroduced H.R. 1500 in the House -- introduced the
Senate companion bill S. 773, with eight co-sponsors. H.R. 1500 was first
introduced in 1989 by then-Utah Rep. Wayne Owens (D).
"This is how the activist outing program is supposed to work," said Vicky
Hoover, the veteran wilderness activist who kicked off the program back in 1993
with a trek to the California desert. "Participants don't just experience the
wonders of a threatened place, they learn how to protect it."
"Patrick and I wouldn't be doing this if it weren't for that activist
outing," Daughenbaugh said. "That crystallized the issue and gave us the tools
and inspiration we needed to organize in our state."
The Club had been pushing for a Senate bill for years, but had not been able
to find a senator willing to introduce one over the objections of both Utah
senators. Senate protocol ordinarily dictates that an outsider not sponsor a
bill affecting another state if that state's delegation opposes it. The anti-
wilderness bill the Utah delegation pushed in the last Congress, however,
threatened not just Utah lands, but all designated wilderness because it
undermined provisions of the 1964 Wilderness Act itself. That and President
Clinton's designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah
last September made Utah wilderness a national issue and set the stage for
Durbin's introduction of S. 773.
The bill's eight Senate co-sponsors -- all Democrats -- are Barbara Boxer
(Calif.), Russell Feingold (Wis.), Edward Kennedy (Mass.), John Kerry (Mass.),
Carol Moseley-Braun (Ill.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and Robert
To take action: Urge your senators and representative to co-sponsor America's
Redrock Wilderness Act -- S. 773 and H.R. 1500.
For more information, contact Lawson LeGate in the Sierra Club's Utah office at
(801) 467-9294; firstname.lastname@example.org or Vicky Hoover at (415) 977-5527;
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