Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y. and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., on Thursday reintroduced legislation that calls for 9.5 million acres of pristine canyon country in southern Utah to be preserved, prohibiting activities such as mining, gas and oil exploration and off-highway vehicle use.
Hinchey and Durbin's legislation, this time trotted out with 151 co-sponsors - including 13 members of the Senate - is the latest version of a bill that then-Utah Democratic Rep. Wayne Owens introduced in 1989.
The Red Rock Wilderness Act's 9.5 million-acre footprint is based on surveys done by volunteers with the Utah Wilderness Coalition, which claims that the Bureau of Land Management ignored vast tracts of wilderness-quality lands in its original 3.2 million-acre inventory.
"It is absolutely imperative that we safeguard these 9.5 million acres of beautiful, pristine open space in Utah and keep them in their natural state in perpetuity," Hinchey said in a statement. "So much of our nation's open space has been developed upon, which is why it is so important that we preserve the precious few acres of wilderness we have."
Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, called the reintroduction of the Red Rock Wilderness Act a small but significant step forward.
"Sure, the reality is that it is difficult to move this legislation in this Congress," said Groene. "But we have made steady progress in terms of increasing the amount of ground that has some form of protection administratively and legally at the same time we're building support for the legislation.
"This is the payoff of a grass-roots campaign that has built credibility and has support across the country as well as Utah," he added.