According to a report from the American Motorcyclist Association, bills that would close 9.1 million acres of Utah public land to off-highway vehicles have been introduced in Congress.
U.S. Rep. Rush Holt (D-N.J.) introduced H.R. 1630, and U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced S. 769, on April 18. Both bills are called America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and would designate more than nine million acres of Utah public land as Wilderness. Once land is designated as Wilderness, no vehicles, including motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles or bicycles, are allowed on that land.
Included in the 9.1 million acres are existing OHV riding areas around Moab, the San Rafael Swell and Chimney Rock. The AMA says these OHV areas are some of the most important remaining in Utah, and are some of the most popular with responsible OHV riders. The targeted areas also include existing roads and developments.
“It is outrageous that Rep. Holt of New Jersey and Sen. Durbin of Illinois would attempt to bypass the Utah congressional delegation to shut down nine million acres in Utah to just about everyone but hikers,” says Wayne Allard, AMA vice president for government relations. “This legislation is also puzzling because much of the land in question doesn’t come close to meeting the definition of Wilderness that’s spelled out in federal law. According to the Wilderness Act of 1964, Wilderness can only apply to land ‘retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation.'”
On April 18, the Republican members of Utah’s congressional delegation sent a letter to their congressional colleagues asking them to withhold their support for the legislation.
The lawmakers, Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, and Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and Jason Chaffetz, wrote:
“In fact, Utah elected officials, including the governor, state legislative leadership, rural county commissioners and Utah’s Republican and Democratic members of Congress have unanimously opposed this bill,” wrote Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee and Reps. Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and Jason Chafffetz. “The Utah delegation is not opposed to preserving wilderness-quality lands. In fact, several members of the Utah delegation are working on a Utah lands bill based on input from state and local government officials, conservation groups and other stakeholders. This will be a balanced bill that provides for both conservation and development opportunities in a locally driven, transparent process.”
“The Utah congressional delegation is doing this properly by making it a bottom up process with input from affected citizens and communities instead of a top down process from Washington,” says Allard, a former U.S. senator representing Colorado. “The Wilderness area the New Jersey member is attempting to force onto the people of Utah is almost twice the size of his state with no public input from the people of Utah.”