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Hoyer and Cardin and the Red Rock Wilderness
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by Chris Yoder | 2008

The unique fragile and irreplaceable asset found in the Public Land wildlands of Utah belongs to every American, including every citizen of Maryland. That is why Maryland Sierrans, and all of Maryland’s citizens, are indebted to Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Steny Hoyer for standing tall in the face of Senator Bill Bennett’s (R-Utah) efforts to pass his so-called “Washington County Growth and Conservation Act” through the back door, either by adding it to the omnibus public lands bill reported out by the Senate Energy Committee, or by attaching it to “must pass” legislation headed to the House.

The unique fragile and irreplaceable asset found in the Public Land wildlands of Utah belongs to every American, including every citizen of Maryland. That is why Maryland Sierrans, and all of Maryland’s citizens, are indebted to Senator Ben Cardin and Congressman Steny Hoyer for standing tall in the face of Senator Bill Bennett’s (R-Utah) efforts to pass his so-called “Washington County Growth and Conservation Act” through the back door, either by adding it to the omnibus public lands bill reported out by the Senate Energy Committee, or by attaching it to “must pass” legislation headed to the House.

The Sierra Club opposes Bennett’s bill because it would designate far too little wild acreage as wilderness and leave unprotected many of the special places defining the grandeur of the red rock country. In addition, Bennett’s bill would mandate the sale of public lands belonging to all Americans and transfer some of the proceeds to Utah’s Washington County government for local infrastructure projects. Bennett’s bill would also fail to provide proper protection from off-road vehicle traffic, as had been promised as part of compromises made when Wilderness designation was foregone in the development of management language for the National Conservation Areas that would have been created in the area.

 Efforts by the Sierra Club and other organizations to negotiate improvements in the bill were fruitless, so it became imperative to ensure that the bill, as written, did not become law. Senator Cardin, and other senators, including Senator Obama of Illinois, played a critical role in ensuring that end-of-session tactics failed to push the unacceptable language through the Senate. Majority Leader Hoyer made it clear that a “must pass” bill, targeted by Senator Bennett as a vehicle for his proposal, would not be accepted by the House if it contained extraneous language. For their principled stands, every American who values our nation’s vulnerable and rapidly disappearing wildlands is in their debt. Now all we need to do is watch for similar tactics during the lame duck session. 

 

Chris Yoder is conservation co-chair of the Maryland Chapter.

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