Wilderness bill progressing without sponsor

Despite the fact that the major sponsor is no longer in the U.S. Senate and a major supporter is no longer on the San Juan County Commission, a bill to designate wilderness in San Juan County is continuing to move forward.
While many thought the San Juan County Wilderness bill was dead, Lynn Stevens reported at a recent Governor’s Balanced Resource Council meeting that the process to develop a bill is moving forward.
The process being used is to gather interested parties from all sides of the political spectrum and reach a compromise solution. Local and state elected officials have a voice at the table, in addition to advocates of special interest groups. The Wilderness Society, a pro-wilderness advocacy group, has been involved in the creation of the wilderness proposal.
Stevens reported that the bill may be ready this fall. He adds that members of the Utah Congressional delegation have committed to back the bill.
Senator Robert Bennett focused effort on a San Juan County wilderness bill before he was defeated in a reelection bid last year. The process was similar to a Washington County Wilderness bill signed into law several years earlier.
Bennett was working closely with San Juan County Commissioners, including Commissioner Stevens, in a process to develop a recommendation for public lands in San Juan County. Stevens left the commission in 2010, but continues to serve on the Governor’s Balanced Resource Council.
When it comes to designating wilderness, Utahns overwhelmingly want local county commissioners to be involved and lead the process. Utahns also support the process used in Washington County.
Those are among the conclusions of recent survey research.  The survey used a randomly drawn sample of 600 registered voters statewide, with an additional sample of 500 respondents in five rural counties, including Grand, Emery, and San Juan.
The results overwhelmingly show that citizens want county commissioners to lead the discussions on public land use and wilderness issues within their county. Citizens like a process that involves all public lands stakeholders, led by local leaders.
While citizens clearly want county commissioners to provide the leadership for these discussions, they also believe other stakeholders should participate in the dialogue.
“Utahn’s, both statewide and especially in rural counties, want their county commissioners more than anyone else to take the lead on public lands use and wilderness issues,” said LaVarr Webb, publisher of Utah Policy.

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