Wharton: My predictions: Las Vegas will drain us, but the fish will be biting
Utah's outdoor enthusiasts might be excused if they view 2007 with a sense of dread, as battles between motorized advocates and wilderness lovers, hunters and wildlife watchers and federal land managers and local governments seem never-ending.
When making predictions, there can be room for optimism mixed with cynicism and even a bit of fear, with the only constant being the sense of drift as issues important to outdoor enthusiasts continue to be put aside for more pressing national, state and local discussions.
The start of a new year offers a chance to make guesses as to the direction outdoor issues may go during the coming year. Here are my predictions, a mixed bag for outdoor recreation, fish and wildlife:
* Expect the State Institutional Trust Lands Administration, the Division of Wildlife Resources and fishing conservation groups to reach an agreement that will keep development away from the banks of the Green River below Flaming Gorge Dam.
* Do not expect any new Utah wilderness to be designated.
* Look for important urban trails to be started, or completed, along the Wasatch Front.
* Expect continued improvements in Utah's big-game hunting. Pending confirmation, the state produced the nation's largest elk, mule deer, Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and Rocky Mountain goat last year.
* Hunters and anglers will continue to make great monetary contributions to help preserve and improve habitat.
* A Democratic Congress will slow the Bush administration's rush to develop oil and gas reserves on public lands, requiring more environmental analysis before leases are sold.
* Cash-strapped Congress will continue to slash budgets for federal land management and wildlife agencies. Don't be surprised to see many U.S. Forest Service campgrounds closed and user fees of all types increased.
* Expect slowed ski-area expansion and lift development in Utah.
* The Utah Legislature will pass a hunting and fishing license restructuring that will see some fees rise and others decrease. It will also require wildlife watchers to buy a license in order to visit state refuges.
* Regional Wildlife Advisory Councils and the Utah Wildlife Board will continue to be dominated by consumptive wildlife users, with anglers and those who do not hunt increasingly left out of the management process.
* Utah fishing will continue to improve.
* The increasing numbers off all-terrain vehicles will force land managers to provide more trails and staging facilities. It will also mandate some closures.
* Managing adventure sports in which participants are more into conquering nature than preserving the environment will challenge state and federal land managers.
* The ecological integrity of the Great Salt Lake will be threatened as Las Vegas is successful in grabbing groundwater from the Great Basin Aquifer, and as the Wasatch Front looks to dam the Bear River to meet its water needs.
* Extreme weather patterns - perhaps a part of global warming - will affect fish, wildlife and recreation in increasingly unpredictable ways.
* The temptation to sell public lands to reduce debt will increase with Democrats, led by majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada, raising access concerns and fueling growth in places such as Utah's Washington County.
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