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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Compromise May Help Settle Southern Utah Wilderness Battle

The decades-old battle over land use in southern Utah may be a step closer to settlement, with organizations on all sides showing support for a new bill defining management of federal land near St George.

Environmental groups have long pushed to have large parcels of land designated as federally protected wilderness. Many other groups oppose such a designation because it would prohibit construction of new roads and block development, including oil and mining activities.

The two sides have been deadlocked for years, not willing to even consider compromise. But this new bill is gaining a broad base of support. The Deseret Morning News reports on the bill in this article. Below are excerpts.

"After five years at the table with all interested stakeholders, Congressman (Jim) Matheson and I have produced a bill that successfully strikes a balance between conservation and growth in Washington County," (Senator Bob) Bennett said in a statement. "Parties on all sides of this debate have repeatedly told me it would be impossible to broker a deal on this emotional issue which, for decades, has caused people to dig in their heels. The persistence we've applied now appears to be paying off as our bill has gained extremely diverse support and a very good chance of passing."

264,394 acres of land would be added to the National Wilderness Preservation System, increasing the amount of wilderness acreage in the county from 3.5 percent to 20.5 percent.

The creation of two National Conservation Areas to provide 140,000 acres for the protected desert tortoise, as well as recreational uses.

A proposed utility corridor for the Lake Powell pipeline and a northern transportation corridor are not included, although Bennett said these changes could be made through the administration.

Designation of 165 miles of the Virgin River as a Wild and Scenic River, the first one in Utah.

"It is going to change the landscape of southwestern Utah," he (Washington County Commission Chairman Jim Eardley) said. "We are going to protect the off-highway routes we already have and will try to respect and protect the mining claims. We also hope to ensure the transportation and utility route rights-of-way are maintained. We need to do that in order to manage our growth."


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