DATELINE OCTOBER 1, 2039
UTAH WILDERNESS NEWS FROM THE FUTURE!
EDITOR’S NOTE: And now, some editorial humor from “the Future!” (a modified version of this story first appeared in The Z several years ago. It has been updated and revised)
No one can accurately predict the future, even locally, whether it’s trying to guess the effects of climate change on the Blue Mountains, the flow of the Colorado River, or the economic future of southeast Utah.
How will Industrial Tourism and the “amenities economy” manage to keep Moab fat and happy into the middle of the 21st Century? Will Bears Ears National Monument and the ensuing massive promotional campaign by its proponents lead San Juan County to a similar fate?
Who knows? I sure don’t. But it’s interesting to speculate. Here’s what the headlines may be saying about Utah Wilderness, twenty years from today:
THE BATTLE OVER UTAH WILDERNESS CONTINUES: 2039
Salt Lake City–October 1, 2039.
Proponents of Utah’s proposed “Red Rock Wilderness Bill” recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the far-reaching wilderness bill’s introduction in the U.S. Congress. In 1989, environmental organizations in Utah, led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) advocated for the protection of 5.4 million acres of Utah public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management. In the late 1990s, the scope of the bill was increased to protect almost ten million acres.
Over the last several decades that number has continued to grow. 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 press conference in Moab, 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 an enthusiastic audience of aging Millennials and exuberant Gen Zers 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.”
Zachary Podmore, the senior correspondent for the Salt Lake Tribune (“a Hansjorg Wyss non-profit company) asked Groene for the plan’s specifics.
“Is it true that SUWA now includes Temple Square in its wilderness inventory?” Podmore, who is also SUWA’s public information representative, expressed his own support for the new proposal, calling it “bold and courageous.”
“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.”
Later, the Tribune endorsed the new SUWA wilderness proposal, saying it represented the best interests of the people of Utah. SUWA’s Groene responded enthusiastically, “We are truly grateful for the Trib’s endorsement and support. We here at SUWA always appreciate fair and balanced reporting.”
Meanwhile, longtime anti-wilderness activist and executive director of “People Addicted to Vehicular Equality” (PAVE), Monte Wells, offered his own proposal at a tightly controlled press conference in Blanding, Utah. Heavily armed PAVE security guards screened audience members at the door. Proof of gun ownership was mandatory to gain access to the gathering. The Trib’s Podmore was rejected and his press credentials confiscated when all he could produce was a squirt gun.
Wells addressed the issue of wilderness from a PAVE perspective. “We have looked at the SUWA proposal,” he said, “and believe it is utter nonsense. Common sense must prevail.
“Our people have been out there on their ATVs, we’ve gone up one side of the state and down the other, we have literally left no dirt untraveled That’s why we all look a bit dusty. But honestly, now that our field research is complete, we can announce for the first time that we’ve been able to locate 317 acres of real wilderness. That’s what our exhaustive inventory says.”
Wells 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.”
Wells refused to discuss a recent 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.”
“And,” Wells added, as he caressed his AR-15, “anybody who doesn’t like our plan had better have bigger bullets than us!” Wells later explained that he was speaking metaphorically.
The wilderness debate has come a long way since, in the early 1990s, when pro- and anti-wilderness forces lined up along respective acreages of 5.4 million acres and 1.3 million acres. Today that gap has grown significantly. Has this difference of opinion 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.”
Clearly, the debate will continue, even if nobody else notices.
Jim Stiles is Founder and Co-Publisher of the Canyon Country Zephyr.