Red Rocks Wilderness Act Gains Ground

It seems Utahns may get what they want, despite the stonewalling behavior their own congressional delegation.

Earlier this month, the U.S. House of Representative’s Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands heard testimony concerning America’s Red Rocks Wilderness Act. This comprehensive wilderness designation package would protect sensitive wild areas of Utah from perennial threats of oil and gas drilling, hard rock mining, and other development sprawl.

The Red Rocks Wilderness Act would protect buffer areas around four national park units in Utah through the creation of officially designated wilderness. In short, this would prevent actions like those allowed under the Bush Administration (and later overturned in Federal Court) that would have allowed oil drilling on the boundaries of Arches National Park, with drill rigs in clear site of park visitors viewing iconic park features such as Delicate Arch. The act as written today would designate roughly 9 million acres of wilderness around  Canyonlands, Arches, and Capitol Reef National Parks, as well as around Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Recent non-partisan polling shows more than 60 percent of Utah’s population supports the Red Rocks Wilderness proposal, yet,  Utah’s entire congressional delegation opposed the bill, as did Utah’s Lt. Governor Greg Bell.  Ironically, those same congressmen acknowledged the importance of protecting wilderness – just not this wilderness (or any wilderness that the oil industry has its eye on!)

Countering the Utah congressional delegations nay-saying was a broad range of speakers representing the people of Utah, the business community in Utah, and several political entities in Utah.  Perhaps most vocal and persuasive  was Peter Metcalf, the CEO of Utah-based Black Diamond Equipment. Metcalf has established himself as a politically savvy hard-hitter, frequently using his influence in the outdoor industry (he is currently Vice President of the well-respected Outdoor Industry Association) to affect legislation and policies related to wilderness and wilderness recreation.

The Red Rocks Wilderness Act was first proposed 20 years ago by Utah Representative Wayne Owens. Today, The bill currently has 137 sponsors in the House, and 20 in the Senate.

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