September 18, 2009

Red Rock Wilderness finally gets a hearing

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It looks like after 20 years of being kicked around, Utah’s flagship wilderness preservation effort will finally get a hearing before Congress on Oct. 1.

The Red Rock Wilderness Act, spearheaded by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, has been a dream of environmentalists for two decades, writes Matt Canham of the Salt Lake Tribune. But the proposed effort to put 9.4 million acres of red rock country under federal protection has been roundly spurned by Utah lawmakers. In fact, it took a democrat from New York – Rep. Maurice Hinchey to get the bill before Congress.

Hinchey reportedly is a fan and frequent visitor of the area. He called the land under consideration “some of the most remarkably pristine and beautiful land in the world.”

None of Utah’s lawmakers has backed the legislation, which likely dooms it to failure.

Utah’s Rep. Rob Bishop has said he doesn’t like this particular act, but he has done other deals with environmental partners.

Three years ago, he helped pass the Cedar Mountains Wilderness Act to protect 100,000 acres. Of course, it also helped a nearby military installation he was trying to safeguard from a proposed nuclear waste storage facility, reports Canham.

Red Rock may not have a similar chip to barter with.

Still, it’s a stand. And, as Myke Bybee of the Sierra Club put it: “It’s a new day for Utah wilderness, one that will be marked by respect for one of this nation’s most treasured landscapes.”

Meanwhile, in New Mexico, home-state Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall are championing a bill to protect the granite peaks and volcanic cinder cones of the Potrillo Mountains. The Associated  Press reports the two New Mexico Democrats have put forward the Organ Mountains Desert Peaks Wilderness Act to create 259,000 wilderness acres, and a 100,000-acre conservation area. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will likely hold a hearing on that bill this fall.

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