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Front Page » March 10, 2009 » Emery County News » Wilderness education for lands council
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Wilderness education for lands council

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After the February Emery County Public Lands meeting, Ray Petersen, public lands director saw the need for an education program on wilderness. A work meeting was set before the March meeting and Petersen began an information session on what wilderness is and is not. Petersen said Emery County has been asked if they are interested in participating in legislation that would designate wilderness in Emery County. Petersen said the council needs education on where we have been in dealing with public lands in the past. He said most Emery County residents will say they don't want wilderness, so why then is it an issue. "In dealing with federal lands, it doesn't just involve the people who live here, it involves others," said Petersen.

At the time the Wilderness Act of 1964 was written the national mood was to take a look at what was going on in America and to protect lands from development. In the 1960s an awareness that if something wasn't done then all areas could be impacted by man. Any wilderness designated was to be managed by the department the land belonged to at the time. The Wilderness Act didn't include the Bureau of Land Management lands at that time. National Park Service, US Forest Service and the US Fish and Wildlife Service were all involved in the wilderness process.

Petersen began with the Wilderness Act of 1964 and an explanation of its origins and background information. The Wilderness Act of 1964 was written by Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society. It created the legal definition of wilderness in the United States, and protected some 9 million acres of federal land. The result of a long effort to protect federal wilderness, the Wilderness Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on Sept. 3, 1964. The Wilderness Act is well known for its succinct and poetic definition of wilderness: area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.

When Congress passed and President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act it created the National Wilderness Preservation System. The initial statutory wilderness areas, designated in the Act, comprised 9.1 million acres of national forest wilderness areas in the United States of America previously protected by administrative orders.

The most important thing about the Wilderness Act is that when Congress designates each wilderness area, it includes a very specific boundary line in statutory law. Once a wilderness area has been added to the system, its protection and boundary can only be altered by another act of Congress.

* The lands protected as wilderness are areas of our public lands.

* Wilderness designation is a protective overlay Congress applies to selected portions of national forests, parks, wildlife refuges, and other public lands.

* Within wilderness areas, we strive to restrain human influences in the ecosystems. The Wilderness Act, however, makes no specific mention of how ecosystems can change over time in their own way, free, as much as possible, from human manipulation. In these areas, as the Wilderness Act puts it, "the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man." Untrammeled meaning the forces of nature operate unrestrained and unaltered.

* Wilderness areas serve multiple uses. But the law limits uses to those consistent with the Wilderness Act mandate that each wilderness area be administered to preserve the "wilderness character of the area." For example, these areas protect watersheds and clean-water supplies vital to downstream municipalities and agriculture, as well as habitats supporting diverse wildlife, including endangered species, while logging and oil and gas drilling are prohibited.

* Along with many other uses and values for the American people, wilderness areas are popular for diverse kinds of outdoor recreation without motorized or mechanical vehicles or equipment. Wilderness is the haven of quiet beyond the end of the road, the wild sanctuary met on its own terms by leaving the machinery of life behind.

* The Wilderness Act was reinterpreted by the Administration in 1986 to ban bicycles from Wilderness areas, which led to the current vocal opposition from mountain bikers to the opening of new Wilderness areas.

Congress considers additional proposals every year, some recommended by federal agencies and many proposed by grassroots conservation and sportsmen's organizations.

Congressional bills are pending to designate new wilderness areas in Colorado, Utah, Washington State, California, Virginia, Idaho, West Virginia and New Hampshire. Grassroots coalitions are working with local congressional delegations on legislative proposals for additional wilderness areas, including Vermont, southern Arizona, national grasslands in South Dakota, Rocky Mountain peaks of Montana, Colorado and Wyoming. The U.S. Forest Service has recommended new wilderness designations, which citizen groups may propose to expand.

No wilderness was designated in Utah at the time of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Petersen said one of the main ideas for wilderness is the opportunity for solitude in unconfined places. These places for opportunity for solitude are subjective. To people from the Wasatch Front who come and camp on the Skyline Drive. They think they are in the wilderness. But, to others who seek solitude they may not want to meet another living soul while they are out hiking and enjoying nature. Solitude and wilderness are different things to different people.

The standard acreage for a wilderness designation was 5,000 acres. The definition of wilderness has not changed since 1964. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has the America's Redrock Wilderness Act which they introduce each year in Congress. There is a public process involved in the designation of wilderness. Public hearings are held and the notices are published on the federal register. Wilderness boundaries of established wilderness areas can be amended to extend boundaries, but this requires an act of Congress.

Any pre-existing rights in an area which is designated as wilderness will still remain in affect. Petersen mentioned a WSA in Carbon County where gas leases are still being exercised.

Scott Groene, executive director for SUWA said wilderness is subject to valid and existing rights. Acting upon an existing right in a wilderness area is valid.

Petersen said when the Wilderness Act of 1964 was being looked at grazing rights were a concern. Many of the western legislators would not vote for an Act that didn't support grazing.

Petersen said confusion erupts when some areas being considered for wilderness have roads or other developments within their boundaries. It is said it can't be true wilderness if these disturbances exist within the area. Petersen said this is the gray area of wilderness and exceptions are made and provided for in these cases. He stated as an example the River of No Return Wilderness Area near Salmon, Idaho has exceptions for airstrips in the wilderness area and airboats are also allowed even though they are motorized modes of travel. The conclusion made in these circumstances is that wilderness is whatever Congress says it is.

Roads exist within the wilderness study areas in the Swell.

Groene said it seems like Congress makes up the rules as it goes along and Congress is king and they often break their own rules. He cited a designated wilderness area in Colorado which has a big road through it. "Congress has done stuff like that," said Groene.

Petersen said the Wilderness Act of 1964 laid the ground work and in 1976 the Federal Land Policy Management Act was passed which laid out the rules for how development would be handled on federal lands. Land management would be for multiple use and sustained yield as established by law. Not all uses would be available for all lands at all times. Some lands would be managed for one or two resources; some ATV use; some wilderness; some archaeological areas; some areas of critical environmental concern; some mining; some mineral and gas exploration. Multiple use is not all uses to all people at all times.

The process for obtaining right of ways on federal lands changed with the adoption of FLPMA. Title 5 right of ways must be obtained for the building of a road across federal land.

During the first inventory for wilderness the BLM wasn't included. But, in 1980 the secretary of the interior was instructed to inventory areas with wilderness characteristics and document these suitable areas for consideration for wilderness designation. The Utah state BLM director did that survey and a report was released and 1,117,000 acres were identified in the Moab Management District which took in the counties of Grand, San Juan, Carbon and Grand. "That is where the WSAs came from we have today," said Petersen. "The intent was for Congress to study those areas and determine if they should be designated as wilderness or not. I am not aware of any studies going on or any studies on them in the last 29 years. Nothing can change those designated wilderness study areas except Congress. The BLM can't disregard these areas nor can they change them. Emery County can't change them. Some of the designated WSAs do have roads through them," said Petersen.

WSAs within the county area include places such as: Desolation Canyon, Turtle Canyon, Mexican Mountain, Sids Mountain area, Devil's Canyon, Copper Globe, Muddy Creek, Crack Canyon, Little Wild Horse, Chute Canyon, Labyrinth Canyon and others. The acreage of the WSAs in the county is 450,000 acres.

Since the initial inventory in 1999, Secretary of the Interior Babbit told the agencies there was more wilderness out there to go and find it so a reinventory was completed and more acreage was added to the existing WSAs.

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March 10, 2009
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