SALT LAKE CITY — Sen. Dick Durban, D-Illinois, wants to reintroduce a bill to protect more than 8 million acres of Utah’s red rock.
Red Rock Act: nothing new
The bill, named “America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act,” has been introduced in similar fashion by the Democratic senator multiple times since 1996, but has yet to make it through Congress. In its latest iteration, the bill is expected to be introduced in the House by Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-California.
Utah has acres of untouched wilderness that is rich in archaeological resources. But this land is threatened by continued fossil fuel development & rampant off-road vehicle use. If we want to safeguard Utah’s wilderness, we must act now.
— Senator Dick Durbin (@SenatorDurbin) December 16, 2019
The bill introduced in the Senate on Monday seeks to designate the Great Basin, Grand Staircase-Escalante, Moab-La Sal Canyons, Henry Mountains, Glen Canyon, San Juan-Anasazi, Canyonlands Basin, San Rafael Swell, Book Cliffs and Uinta Basin as wilderness areas.
Mostly Democrats support the effort
10 other Senators, mostly Democrats, signed on as co-sponsors: Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Jack Reed of Rhode Island, Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Jacky Rosen of Nevada, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, and Independent Bernie Sanders, also of Vermont. Both Sanders and Klobuchar are running for president as Democrats.
“These lands are threatened by fossil fuel development as well as rampant off-road vehicle use. Designating them as wilderness would safeguard wildlife, protect ancestral lands, help mitigate climate change, and provide access to future generations of hunters, anglers, hikers, boaters, and lovers of the natural world,” Durbin said in a release from his office.
Utah leaders respond
The bill drew criticism from many of Utah’s elected officials. Gov. Gary Herbert, Sen. Mitt Romney and Reps. Rob Bishop and John Curtis, all Republicans, called the bill a “land grab” and a fundraising opportunity.
“Senator Durbin’s bill… feeds the narrative that some care more about profit from donor fundraising than the preservation of the majestic landscapes of UT they claim to care so much about,” Curtis wrote on Twitter. He said Durbin refused to speak with him about the matter.
Senator Durbin’s bill will have a chilling effect on good faith efforts to solve these difficult public land issues. It feeds the narrative that some care more about profit from donor fundraising than preservation of the majestic landscapes of UT they claim to care so much about. https://t.co/WxikgSFiF9
— Rep. John Curtis (@RepJohnCurtis) December 16, 2019
Romney called the bill a betrayal of the agreements made earlier in the Emery County Public Land Management Act.
The ink is barely dry on the historic lands package, and @SenatorDurbin and @SouthernUTWild are reneging on the good faith agreement made between local groups and elected officials by pushing this land grab. Their bill targeting Emery County is a betrayal. https://t.co/3ilT1oXdAT
— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) December 16, 2019
Herbert says he is disappointed. He says the bill neglects the efforts already made by Utahns.
I’m very disappointed to see Senator Durbin introduce a bill which ignores the good faith efforts of Utahns across the political spectrum,” Governor Herbert said. “The right way to create public lands policy is at the local level, where people are immediately impacted by those policies and are in the best position to develop productive compromises.
Bishop called the effort a propaganda bill used to raise money.
[This] is a nonsensical bill designed only to con money from gullible donors. Part of this bill is already law. When informed of this error, Durbin, et al., said they didn’t care. This is, again, only a propaganda bill. Utah is tired of being used for callous political purposes by eastern lawmakers who don’t know what the hell they are doing. Enough already.
What others are saying
Other Utah groups are in favor of the legislation.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance says the bill will “safeguard Utah wilderness from oil and gas development” as well as prevent the “increasing intrusion of motorized vehicles into the backcountry.”
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