News from the future!
by Jim Stiles
Jul 14, 2010 | 8421 views | 0 0 comments | 1169 1169 recommendations | email to a friend | print

No one can accurately predict the future, whether it’s climate change, the flow of the Colorado River or the economic future of southeast Utah...but it’s interesting to speculate.

Reviewing the current news of the day, some ideas come to mind. For example, here in San Juan County, it appeared there might finally be some progress in the decades-old wilderness debate. But Senator Bob Bennett’s efforts to find consensus may have hit the skids when his own party rejected him at their convention in May (They thought he was too liberal!).

Most Utah enviros must have been delighted; many loathed the idea of any compromise and with even local green groups boasting million dollar payrolls, what incentive is there to actually put themselves out of business?

Oddly, the far right wing anti-wilderness advocates surely share their adversary’s glee. Perpetually locked in “sagebrush rebel mode,” few are willing to acknowledge that even conservatives in San Juan County have embraced the recreation/amenities economy touted by environmentalists.

Would Cal Black ever have dreamed that his county might be promoting its natural wonders on National Public Radio and see Blanding proclaim itself “Your Base Camp to Adventure”? Amazing. 

Watching the two ends of the wilderness debate spectrum, it’s interesting to note that intractability is their commonly shared trait. These people have more in common than they’d ever dare to admit.

So now what? I can almost see the headlines---20 years from now...


It’s difficult to imagine but both opponents and proponents of a Utah BLM Wilderness bill have been fighting over legislation for  50 years, and some wonder if this impasse will ever be broken. After half a century of bickering is there light at the end of the tunnel?

Scott Groene, longtime director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) believes the time has come.

At a sparsely attended press conference, Groene announced that SUWA and the Utah Wilderness Coalition were on the verge of a major breakthrough. “We believe that after our latest citizens’ inventory, we have a real handle on the wilderness that’s still out there.”

Groene told a stunned audience that the new Coalition inventory reveals more than 66 million acres of available wilderness in Utah.

“Yes,” Groene replied to questions, “ I am well aware that the number is more than the total amount of acreage in the entire state, but we really don’t believe that should be an impediment to this bill. We simply included properties in other states that are owned by Utah residents.”

Rod Decker, the senior correspondent for KUTV in Salt Lake City asked if it was true that SUWA includes Temple Square in its wilderness inventory.

“That is mostly true,” Groene said guardedly, “but we are going to allow some cherry stemming of Temple Square sidewalks and we are fairly certain the Temple itself does not have all the components for wilderness ...we just don’t think there’s enough solitude in the Celestial Room.”

Several Utah airport tarmacs where SUWA board members park their Gulfstream jets were also exempted from wilderness. “We believe in compromise,” the SUWA director explained. “This is simply proof that we can be flexible.”

Meanwhile, anti-wilderness advocate Brian Hawthorne, former director of AccessUSA and the leader of the Blue Ribbon Panel for Open Access offered his organization’s own proposal at a similarly near-empty press conference in Cedar City.

“Our people have been out there on their ATVs; we’ve gone up one side of the state and down the other, and we’ve been able to locate 317 acres of real wilderness. That’s what our inventory says.”

Hawthorne identified the inaccessible pinnacles of numerous rock spires and monuments throughout the state, including several well-known climbing rocks near Moab, Utah as “possibly having wilderness characteristics ...we couldn’t get our ATVs up them, so they must be wilderness. Otherwise we stand by our count.”

Hawthorne refused to discuss a recent Blue Ribbon internal memo that called for the removal and transfer of Utah’s famed Delicate Arch to a more accessible location.

“Let’s just say we believe in equal access and leave it at that.”

In the early 1990s, pro- and anti-wilderness forces lined up along respective acreages of 5.4 million acres versus 1.3 million acres. Today that gap has grown significantly. Has this gap inflamed the public?

A Dan Jones poll in the Deseret News says not. Of the 1345 Utah citizens polled over the wilderness issue, 76% replied, “Don’t care,” “Don’t know enough to answer,” or “Never heard of wilderness.”

(Jim Stiles is publisher of the “Canyon Country Zephyr -- Planet Earth Edition” now exclusively online at He can be reached at
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