Protecting Utah's Red Rock Wilderness

A beloved Western landscape will be coming under scrutiny soon. For the first time since it was introduced in 1989, America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act will have its day on Capitol Hill next week.

Sponsored by Reps. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., the bill will go before the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands for consideration Oct. 1.

“This is a historic moment in the long effort to protect Utah’s magnificent wilderness landscapes,” said Scott Groene, of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, a main proponent of the bill. “Places like Cedar

Mesa, the San Rafael Swell, the Green River and the West Desert are one step closer to achieving the lasting protection they need.”

The act proposes to protect the 9-million acre area from ORV damage, water pollution, mining, and oil and gas drilling. “Hunters, anglers and families will have opportunities to experience the overwhelming quiet and awe that these landscapes offer,” Groene said. “All Americans will be able to visit these special places and know that they will be met with the same peace and beauty that previous generations have enjoyed.”

The Red Rock Wilderness Act was first

introduced in Congress by Wayne Owens, D-Utah, who recognized that the canyons, plateaus and wild country of southern Utah were worthy of wilderness protection. The Act would designate about 9 million acres of BLM lands in Utah, including the Book Cliffs, Vermilion Cliffs, San Rafael Reef and the Wah Wah Mountains.

Longtime southern Utah wilderness advocate Veronica Egan, of Durango’s Great Old Broads for Wilderness, applauded the news. “It’s very exciting, this is as far as the bill’s ever gone,” she said.

Egan’s group has monitored ORV impacts in south eastern Utah for years, and

the situation is only getting worse, often with the encouragement of local governments. “In the past, San Juan County illegally bladed ATV trails into places where the BLM does not allow motorized vehicles,” she said. “In Kane County, county commissioners tore down restricted travel signs and put up there own and last spring, they led an illegal ATV ride into a wilderness study area.”

Recently, the Federal Court of Appeals ruled against Kane County for the third time, saying the BLM had ultimate jurisdiction over the lands.

– Missy Votel