Utah wilderness activists George Handley, McKenzie Carlisle, and Eve Miller, posing here with redrock champion Rep. Maurice Hinchey (second from right), flew to Washington DC for the congressional hearing on America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.

On October 1, 2009, for the first time in 15 years, America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act — the most comprehensive proposal for protection of Utah’s wild lands — got a hearing in the U. S. Congress (before the Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands).

As expected, Utah’s entire congressional delegation spoke in opposition to the bill, as did Utah’s Lt. Governor Greg Bell. But, what was noticeably absent from the discussion was a condemnation of wilderness. Each Utah member of Congress acknowledged the importance of protecting wilderness. This is a far cry from the rhetoric we heard years ago opposing the very concept of wilderness.

Speaking eloquently on behalf of Utah wilderness at the hearing was a diverse line-up of Utahns who demonstrated that support for wilderness stewardship in Utah now cuts across ideological and political boundaries. Those testifying included:

  • Peter Metcalf, CEO of Black Diamond Equipment and Vice-President of the national Outdoor Industry Association (read testimony)
  • Bryson Garbett, a Republican former Utah State Representative, CEO of Garbett Homes, and President of the Salt Lake Home Builders (read testimony)
  • Rocky Anderson, former Salt Lake City Mayor (read testimony)

Clearly, Utahns are ready for more wilderness protection. A 2009 Dan Jones poll reflects that 60% of Utahns who have developed an opinion want to see 9 million acres or more of the federal lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management protected as wilderness.

The wilderness debate in Utah has moved to a new level — the question now is not about whether there will be more wilderness designated in Utah, it’s about how much and where.

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