Robert V. Abbey
Bureau of Land Management
Department of the Interior
House Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and
October 1, 2009
Thank you for inviting the Department of the Interior to testify on H.R. 1925, America's Red Rock Wilderness Act.The Department strongly supports the constructive resolution of public lands and wilderness designation issues in
Substantial work on this proposal has been undertaken in Utah by citizen volunteers who care deeply about the land and its protection.The history of wilderness proposals in Utah is a contentious one.Resolution and certainty will serve all parties — including the conservation community, extractive industries, OHV enthusiasts, local communities, State government, and Federal land managers.An important milestone in this effort was reached with the inclusion of the wilderness designations within the Washington County Act as part of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which was enacted earlier this year.We hope that this collaborative model can be extended to the rest of
H.R. 1925 proposes to designate 218 units of BLM-managed lands, comprising 9.4 million acres, into the National Wilderness Preservation System.These designations span the State of
Grand Staircase-Escalante wilderness areas (52 areas)
Moab-La Sal Canyons wilderness areas (15 areas)
San Juan-Anasazi wilderness areas (12 areas)
San Rafael Swell wilderness areas (21 areas)
Book Cliffs and
The BLM reviewed some of the areas proposed for designation under H.R. 1925 through its recently-completed resource management plans.However, given the scope of the bill, the BLM has not undertaken a detailed analysis of each proposed designation in the context of designated wilderness.Should the Committee wish to move forward with the legislation, the BLM would carefully review each of the 218 areas to assess wilderness quality, boundary manageability, and conflicts with current uses, including motorized recreation and energy resource development.In addition, detailed mapping is necessary.Undertaking such a review and creating maps of these areas is both critically important to moving forward and a monumental task.
Below are a few examples of areas that an initial review, based on available information, indicates may deserve protection.
Section 109 designates a number of wilderness areas throughout the San Rafael Swell.The unique character of the San Rafael Swell area began to form 50 million years ago when a massive uplift formed a geologic structure called an anticline.This bulge in the earth's crust was later eroded to leave high mesas, deep canyons, domes, and spectacular arches and spires.The terrain varies from sheer cliffs and dazzling canyons to more gently eroded badlands broken by shallow washes.San Rafael Reef extends through the southeast side of the area with dramatic sheer-walled cliffs, pinnacles, knobs, twisted canyons and valleys of stunning colors.It is a geological classroom of amazing proportions.
On the western edge of
We also know that some of the areas proposed for designation present serious challenges because of existing and conflicting uses.For example, recreational use has exploded on public lands throughout the West, including in southern and eastern
One use that conflicts with wilderness is mountain biking; an increasingly popular outdoor activity on BLM lands.In the Moab area, for example, both BLM's Bar M Mountain Bike Focus Area and parts of the Klondike Bluffs Mountain Bike Focus Area are within the Arches Adjacent area proposed in section 104(b)(1) of the legislation.Both of these areas, specifically designated by the BLM for mountain biking, receive substantial use -as many as 20,000 bikers annually on a single bike trail - which would be inconsistent with wilderness designation.
OHV use, either in designated motorized use areas or on designated road networks, also presents serious conflicts in a number of wilderness areas proposed in H.R.1925, including Goldbar Canyon (section 104 (b)(8)) and Duma Point (section 108 (b)(5)).About 70 percent of the proposed Goldbar area is within BLM's Gemini Bridges/Poison Spider Mesa Backcountry Motorized Touring Focus Area; as many as 800 vehicles per day access this area.Similarly, we estimate that over 21,000 OHVs use the Duma area annually.
Some existing or proposed energy development activities may pose inherent conflicts with some of the designations in the bill.In the
In addition, the recently-designated Westwide Energy Corridors may overlap portions of a number of the areas proposed for designation.In the case of the Upper Kanab Creek (section 103(a)(2)(N)), a 3½ mile segment of the corridor bisects the wilderness area proposed in the bill.
Utah's west desert has potential for solar, wind, and geothermal development that the BLM would like to further review as well, and we hope that the Committee will consider this potential.For example, locations within the Antelope Range (section 101(b)(1)) and San Francisco Mountains (section 101(b)(34)) are currently under consideration for wind energy development.High-potential geothermal sites intersect the Crater Bench (section 101(b)(7)), Cricket Mountain (section 101(b)(9)), Drum Mountains (section 101(b)(11)), Sand Ridge (section 101(b)(35)) and Granite Peak (section 101(b)(15)) areas.
Finally, section 102(b) of the bill provides for wilderness designations in the Zion and Mojave Deserts of southwestern Utah.We note that Title II, subtitle O of the Omnibus Public Land Management Act, Public Law 111-11, designated nearly 130,000 acres of BLM wilderness in this same area and many of the proposed designations in this subsection appear to overlap with the provisions of that law.
The beauty and power of Utah's red rock canyons, mountains, deserts and plateaus defy easy description.These extraordinary natural features include an expansive range of ecosystems.We support moving the discussion on designating wilderness in Utah forward.Our hope is that this hearing will be the impetus for the hard work that needs to be undertaken in order to make thoughtful decisions about these important lands.The Department of the Interior looks forward to working cooperatively with local and national constituencies, this subcommittee, the sponsor of the bill, and the Utah Congressional delegation toward that end.