Something fishy is up at the Utah Test and Training Range (UTTR), the 1.7-million-acre military training ground and bombing range in Utah’s West Desert. You’ve passed it if you’ve driven from Salt Lake to Wendover on I-80, but like most people, you probably haven’t been there. It’s completely closed to the public.
In the last Congress, Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch proposed an expansion of this training range by including in it about 700,000 additional acres of land now overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. The Pentagon didn’t ask for this, but it was tacked on to the National Defense Authorization Act anyway. That act is a behemoth piece of legislation that combines all manner of military initiatives and routinely passes Congress. Fortunately, the UTTR expansion didn’t make the final cut.
However, when the expansion proposal was revived in this Congress, a number of bad public lands provisions stuck like burrs onto its coattails at the behest of Utah representatives. Now, in addition to the enlargement, the proposal would give “highway” rights-of-way to Juab, Tooele, and Box Elder Counties, something that has nothing to do with the UTTR and has everything to do with the State of Utah’s ideological battles against federal lands.
Thousands of Miles of Bogus Routes
We don’t know which routes we’re talking about yet (the draft language refers to a mystery map, which has not been provided), but we do know that these three counties have claimed rights to thousands of miles of routes under a legal loophole known as Revised Statute 2477. More than 3,000 miles of those routes are “Class Ds,” the ghost tracks, cowboy meanders, and dirt paths that nobody would call a highway with a straight face (but you might with a crooked smile). One Tooele County claim even goes through the designated Cedar Mountains Wilderness. Legislating the giveaway of any of these so-called “routes” would be devastating to public lands.
The bill also facilitates a land exchange that would trade parcels currently isolated within the UTTR for parcels now in proposed wilderness. That would put the lands at risk from mining, and would expand grazing to new areas without the usual environmental review. None of this, incidentally, helps the troops.
That’s unfortunate. When the Cedar Mountains were designated as wilderness in 2006—with the unanimous support of the Utah delegation—the reasoning was that wilderness made an excellent buffer for these military facilities. We could achieve another such success for gorgeous wild places like the Silver Island Mountains, the Fish Springs Range, the Dugway Mountains and the Newfoundland Mountains, all of which are proposed for protection in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. Instead, national security is being used as a shield for undermining national treasures.
Worried the delegation would again try to tack the giveaway provisions onto the large military package that was on the floor this summer, we ran ads in Capitol Hill newspapers, and have briefed our allies on the Hill about the nefarious add-ons in the proposal. The scheme has so far not ended up in that package, but work on it isn’t finished yet. We’ll keep an eye out. We know a little something about defense ourselves.
(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, summer 2015 issue)