I'm writing in regards to a recent letter sent by a reader who suggests that it's all too easy for an East Coast politician to propose wilderness land declarations in southern Utah, and further suggests that any additional wilderness in Utah ought to be opposed until we offer up lands in New York for wilderness status. I am all too happy to have the opportunity to respond and help clarify the issue for him.
Admittedly, in New York, we do not have an abundance of federal land. However, as a gift from our 19th century legislators, those state lands that are set aside for protection in New York are designated as "forever wild," which in effect, has the same impact as wilderness designations on federal lands, albeit with state ownership.
For example, the Catskill Park and Forest Preserve, protected in 1904, encompasses more than 6,000 square miles in six and a half counties. The Catskills are often referred to as America's first wilderness area because scholars trace the very beginnings of the environmental movement to this beautiful area, made up of mountains, forests, rivers and farmland.
Furthermore, and even more indicative of the early willingness of New Yorkers to protect land is the Adirondack Park, which was designated in 1882 and comprises about 6.1 million acres, which is the size of Vermont--a land mass larger than Yellowstone, Everglades, Glacier and Grand Canyon National Parks combined. This park contains 85 percent of all wilderness in the eastern United States. And thanks to progressive planning by early legislators in 1882 when the park was created, the New York State legislature also enacted several measures that guarantee this land -- the largest protected area in the contiguous United States -- will remain forever wild.
The important thing to remember with our efforts to designate parts of southern Utah as wilderness is that we're not talking about private lands. These are acres owned by the federal government, which means they belong to each and every American. We must take into account our national interest of preserving precious land for this and all future generations to enjoy for eternity.