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Bush Wrapping Final Gift for Wilderness Foes

Utah land management plans - covering 11 million acres - will invite off-road vehicle destruction, energy development in spectacular, fragile landscape.

The Denver Post reported last Sunday about a series of nasty schemes that the Bush Administration hopes to finalize in its remaining 200-odd days in power. 

The article, entitled "Bush prepares parting shots," describes a number of infamous proposals, including efforts to rewrite rule for all of our national forests to provide less protection for wildlife.  Earthjustice has been fighting that one for years, with much success.

But Bush's appointees are masters at trying to undermine environmental protection by focusing on the obscure, the minutia of regulation and administration.

Take, for instance, resource management planning for Bureau of Land Management lands in Utah.  Sounds boring, right?  But the stakes couldn't be higher.  Because Bush's appointees are desperately working to simultaneously complete plans for six different areas of public lands in Utah covering 11 million acres, an area larger than the states of Massachusetts and New Jersey combined.  And as they finish these plans, they hope to finish off wilderness protection in Utah.

That's because these plans, as now proposed, will undermine protection for wilderness by letting off-road vehicles rip through proposed wilderness and wilderness study areas, and open an astonishing 9 million of the 11 million acres for oil and gas drilling. 

Areas such as Arch Canyon, rich in cultural artifacts of ancient native cultures - preserved for a millenium or more in the area's dry climate - will get scant protection, as BLM has failed to even try to find resources to protect them.

For the planning area around Moab, a few statistics tell the story.  BLM proposes NOT to protect more than 89% of the nearly half-million acres of wilderness quality lands.  Further, as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance explains "BLM's proposal will result in 84% of the public lands mear Moab ... being within 1/2 mile" of a road or motor vehicle route.  The land made famous in Ed Abbey's "Desert Solitaire" will be more like a mega-dirt bike race track than the iconic wilderness of the West. 

The story is even worse in the Kanab area near the Arizona border, where BLM has proposed to protect none of the area's 90,000 acres of wilderness-eligible lands.  In the Monticello area near Canyonlands National Park, BLM also proposes protecting none of the more than half-million acres of wildlands outside of wilderness study areas found there.

The plans are hardly fair and balanced in terms of energy development either -- 97% of lands in the Vernal area will be left open to oil & gas development, leaving 3% for the rest of us.  So much for "multiple use."  All of the six plans proposes leaving open to energy development at least 3/4s of the entirety of each area.

The public will have a chance to "protest" these plans when BLM issues its decisions on them in the next few months.  We can guess what kind of a fair hearing those seeking wilderness protection will get.  And while it may be possible for the next administration to unscramble these bad eggs, it may take almost as many years to get it right as Bush's appointees took to get it so wrong.

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