McEntee: Roadless decision a thing of beauty for Utah
I was in Moab this past weekend, surrounded by redrock palisades and seeing, just to the southeast, the looming La Sal Mountains. The week before, I'd been farther south in Utah, home to some of the loveliest national forests in the country.
So it was with great joy that I learned Monday the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a plea from Wyoming and a Colorado mining group to reverse earlier rulings upholding the federal "roadless rule" that protects about 58 million acres across the Western United States.
In Utah, that means Ashley, Caribou-Targhee, Dixie, Sawtooth, Manti-La Sal and Uinta-Wasatch-Cache national forests are protected from road building, mining, drilling and most logging.
And while the likes of state Rep. Mike Noel are probably tearing their hair out, the decision preserves those forests for deer, elk, mountain lions, beavers, bears and the water that sustains them. The same can be said for those of us who hunt, fish, hike or just marvel at the beauty of mile after mile of pristine land.
In Utah, "multiple use" is political rhetoric for bulldozers, drilling rigs and ATVs everywhere. An associated theory is that the state must not forgo the ability to extract ever-growing amounts of oil, gas, coal and, eventually, tar sands. If it's bad for big business, such thinking goes, it's bad for Utah.
But under the roadless rule, there can be limited timber harvesting, some livestock grazing and even OHV riding. Some oil and gas development would be allowed as long as it didn't require new roads.
Of course, the high court's decision could give a moral boost to the lawmakers who somehow believe that Utah has the right to claim nearly all federal lands within its borders. It's patently untrue, given Utah's Enabling Act, which required residents to "forever disclaim all right and title to the unappropriated public lands lying within the boundaries."
Still, the land grabbers remain willing to spend millions on a lost cause. That's more than a shame; it's an insult to the intelligence of Utahns who understand and honor the relationship between state and federal forces trying to protect what we and tourists love about the state.
Besides, the feds have opened up thousands of acres of eastern Utah to drilling. The state allowed a coal company to dig an open pit coal mine on private land in southern Utah, and the company wants to expand into Bureau of Land Management land near Bryce Canyon National Park.
This does nothing for Panguitch, where businesses catering to tourists have closed amid the ceaseless rumbling of huge coal trucks on the two-lane Highway 89 through town.
In the end, the U.S. Supreme Court has done Utah and other states a huge favor. By protecting roadless areas in national forests, it's protecting what makes this state the stunningly beautiful place it is and must remain.
Peg McEntee is a news columnist. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, facebook.com/pegmcentee and Twitter: @pegmcentee.