Senator Bennett Proposes Legislation Undermining America’s Redrock Wilderness and the Zion-Mojave Proposed Wilderness

SUWA calls for public hearings. You should too.

Wednesday in St. George, Utah, Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT) released a legislative proposal for Washington County on behalf of the local county commissioners that would make significant changes to the landscape of southwestern Utah.

Washington County is one of the most spectacular and biodiverse landscapes in the West. It also happens to be the fifth-fastest growing county in the United States. This bill fuels the growth by adding water, road, and utility corridors and 40 square miles of new development land sold out of the public estate. And it leaves over 70% of the proposed Zion-Mojave wilderness on the chopping block.

SUWA and other conservationists were largely excluded from the development of this legislation. We were not allowed to see either the proposal language or the maps until Wednesday. But now that we have, we're extremely disappointed.

The county commissioners' proposal is a developer's dream that will harm wilderness and wildlife and fuel faster growth and sprawl in the St. George area. Among other elements:

It is a huge loss for wilderness:

  • The commissioners want to leave almost 70% of the proposed BLM Zion-Mojave wilderness on the chopping block, including lands that the BLM found to qualify as wilderness.
  •  It rolls back protection that's been in place for over ten square miles of Congressionally-protected Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs.)
  • Taking a page from the playbook of  former Representative Jim Hansen, the commisioners tried to obscure the loss with largely meaningless National Park Service wilderness. (Well over half of the proposed wilderness acreage is in Zion National Park.)

It will put St. George growth on steroids:

  • It sells off 40 square miles of public land for private development.
  • It gives water developers money from the sale of these public lands for the construction of water development pipelines and reservoirs.
  •  It gives water developers free of charge approximately 14 square miles of public land for water development.
  • It allows the damming of the free-flowing stream in the Beaver Dam Narrows.
  •  It permits a new bypass highway to be constructed through public land previously set aside to protect desert tortoises.
  • It will make ORV problems worse.
  • It mandates a new ORV trail system with money from sale of public lands, while doing nothing to control already uncontrolled ORV use.

What Lies Ahead:

We hope to work with Senator Bennett to create good legislation that provides meaningful protections for Utah’s wilderness areas. But we are also prepared to fight and stop the county commissioner’s proposal if that does not happen

With so much at risk, and given that the public has just learned what the local politicians have proposed, Senator Bennett needs to provide adequate time for the public to respond.  The vast public lands at stake deserve better than a rush job.  There should be public hearings held in multiple locations across Utah so that all residents will have the chance to give their input.

We will stay in touch and let you know what you can do to help protect a critical piece of America’s Red Rock Wilderness known as the Zion-Mojave proposed wilderness.

What You Can Do:

If you live in Utah, you can help by contacting your members of Congress and letting them know that you want public hearings in Salt Lake City and other locations before legislation is acted on. If you live outside Utah, contact your own members of the Senate and House to let them know you are concerned about federal public land in Utah and want them to vigilantly protect the wilderness there.

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