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Urban, rural lawmakers spar over lands-figtht spending

Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness, Washington County, Utah
U.S. Bureau of Land Management
Cottonwood Canyon Wilderness, Washington County, Utah


A state lawmaker says wilderness advocates are waging a war of attrition in the wildlands fight.

Kathleen Clarke leads Utah’s public lands policy office. Her job includes guiding the state’s legal battle over 12,000 roads in rural Utah. The state is fighting the federal government to prevent federal wilderness designation on the land those roads cross. She told legislative budget-makers Thursday some of her agency’s budget will help pay for 200 crucial interviews that need to be done in the next two years.

“We have great concern our witnesses are dying, quite frankly,” she told the panel. “In order to prove the state’s interest in a road, we have to have aerial photos, hopefully USGS maps that identify the roads. We need to have a witness that can testify that that road was in existence for 10 years prior to 1976.”

Salt Lake City Democratic Senator Jim Dabakis questioned the rural roads fight itself.

“My constituents just think a lot of this is a terrible waste of taxpayers money,” he said.

But Rep. Mike Noel blamed Dabakis’ supporters.

“Your constituents have delayed this case for years and years and years,” said Noel, “because they recognize that as a great mechanism to out-wait people ‘til they die, to cause the county the most extreme stress, to cost the state millions of dollars.”

The budget-making committees have been meeting in the State Capitol all week. They are reviewing executive branch spending plans for the budget year that begins in July. The public lands policy office has requested nearly 2.3 million dollars for its work.

Judy Fahys has reported in Utah for two decades, covering politics, government and business before taking on environmental issues. She loves covering Utah, where petroleum-pipeline spills, the nation’s radioactive legacy and other types of pollution provide endless fodder for stories. Previously, she worked for the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah, and reported on the nation’s capital for States News Service and the Scripps League newspaper chain. She is a longtime member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and Investigative Reporters and Editors. She also spent an academic year as a research fellow in the Knight Science Journalism program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In her spare time, she enjoys being out in the environment, especially hiking, gardening and watercolor painting.
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