The Times-Independent

Wilderness coalition responds to Washington County commissioner's letter


Wilderness Coalition responds . . .

The Utah Wilderness Coalition would like to respond

to Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner’s letter, published

April 4, that suggests conservation groups should be satisfied with the

public lands legislation for the Zion-Mojave region proposed by Sen.

Bob Bennett and the county commissioners.

The UWC has serious concerns with this

proposal unveiled on March 22. Washington County is home to some

of the world’s most stunning lands and imperiled species. It is

also one of the fastest-growing communities in the United States. The

county commissioners’ proposal would sell off public lands to add

roads, water, money and private land for additional development,

putting the existing growth on steroids and changing southwest Utah

irrevocably. It also leaves approximately 70 percent of existing

BLM unprotected wilderness on the chopping block.

Legislation of this magnitude deserves public discussion, including hearings beyond St. George.

Contrary to Gardner’s assertion, there was no

public process to discuss the county’s legislative proposal until it

was released on March 22, 2006. UWC representatives did

participate in the Washington County Working Group, convened by former

Gov. Olene Walker, which met on five occasions in 2004. However, the

group was abandoned before the commissioners unveiled their proposal.

All stakeholders were asked to submit written suggestions

for legislation, and the UWC did so, but the county commissioners never

submitted written comments for the group. We did not see the county’s

proposal until it was released as draft legislation over a year later,

just two weeks ago.

After the working group concluded in Dec.

2004, the UWC made repeated offers for negotiations. In May 2005, we

submitted a proposal to Sen. Bennett that included public land disposal

and wilderness protection, off-road vehicle use, utility corridors and

rights-of-ways in an effort to begin negotiations on various elements

of a Washington County bill. A month later, we sent a letter making

clear that our proposal was just a starting point for negotiations.

That letter said, “we are open to suggestions, alternatives, and

creative answers to resolving the differences of interests between

various stakeholders.” Again in January 2006, we extended the

offer to negotiate saying, “we welcome the opportunity to work towards

an agreement to protect public lands in southwestern Utah’s Zion-Mojave

region.” The UWC sent the county commissioners a letter March 14,

saying, “please consider this an offer of our willingness to entertain

a compromise that may be agreeable to all sides.” But

despite our requests, we never received a proposal from the

commissioners.

The first time we saw the county’s proposal

was when Sen. Bennett and the county unveiled it on March 22nd. Gardner

cannot truthfully claim that the proposal introduced this March was the

product of an open, legitimate process.

It would be unfair to expect the UWC or the

public to settle on a proposal that was written without public

involvement and which would so irrevocably harm the landscape and

communities of Washington County. We remain hopeful that future

discussions will occur and that this legislation can be transformed so

that it serves Utah’s best interests while protecting our wilderness.

On behalf of the Utah Wilderness Coalition,

–Scott Groene

Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

–Suzanne Jones

The Wilderness Society

–Lawson LeGate

Sierra Club

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