SALT LAKE CITY - A decision announced today by the U.S. Department of the Interior to alter the designation of wilderness on public lands could undermine efforts made in Utah to protect the land, Governor Gary R. Herbert said.
"The timing of this decision is suspect, coming the day before Christmas Eve," Governor Herbert said. "State officials were not notified of the Department's intent, nor were we offered an opportunity to discuss it with Interior officials beforehand, which strikes me as political posturing."
The Governor's Balanced Resource Council, led by Governor Herbert's environmental advisor Ted Wilson, has been working with local governments, environmental groups, concerned citizens and others on wilderness designation throughout the State.
"This decision may unintentionally damage all of the good will that we have worked so hard to build between the State, local governments, the environmental community and federal officials," Governor Herbert said.
The Governor expressed his concerns during a Thursday afternoon phone call with Bob Abbey, director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. "We have tried to have a new era of cooperation with Interior, and I'm afraid these actions may hurt those attempts."
He also invited Abbey to visit Utah in January to sit down with policy makers and explain the Department's intent for the new rules and also to discuss the intended, and possible unintended, consequences of the decision.
"The ironic fallout of this decision is that it could stifle our ability to resolve wilderness issues through cooperation and compromise, like we saw in Washington County and are beginning to see throughout the State," Governor Herbert said.
Utah currently has 3 million acres of wilderness study areas, and wilderness was recently designated in Washington County after a lengthy effort involving residents, local government and environmental groups. Similar efforts are underway in San Juan, Emery, Piute and Beaver Counties. A Washington D.C.-based BLM based process to consider Wild Land designations may undercut the trust necessary to successfully conclude these tough negotiations.