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Romney, Curtis Introduce Round 2 Of A Bill To Troll Illinois Senator Over Effort To Conserve 8 Million Acres Of Utah Land

America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act accounts for 1.5% of the remaining land that needs to be conserved to reach the goal of protecting 30% of land in the United States by 2030.
Ray Bloxham
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
A bill by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, would designate 8.4 million acres in Utah as federally-protected wilderness areas.

The decades long, and often antagonistic, battle over Utah’s red rocks is rearing its head again.

Sen. Mitt Romney, R-UT, and Rep. John Curtis, R-UT, introduced legislation Thursday to designate 289,000 acres of land in Illinois as federally protected wilderness.

It’s an attempt to troll Sen. Dick Durbin, D-IL, who introducedAmerica’s Red Rock Wilderness Act Monday that would designate 8.4 million acres in Utah as federally-protected wilderness areas.

Democrats have run some version of Durbin’s bill for 30 years, and this is at least the third time Utah Republicans have introduced a retaliatory bill.

“So long as Senator Durbin continues to introduce his bill, we will continue to introduce ours,” Romney said in a statement.

Out-of-state politicians shouldn’t make decisions about Utah’s public lands, according to Romney.

“Senators in the East shouldn’t be telling people in the West what to do with our land,” Romney said. “If wilderness is so important to Sen. Durbin, he doesn’t need to go all the way to Utah to designate it. Our bill would designate the 289,000 acres of national forest in Illinois as wilderness so he can save himself a trip across the country and enjoy the wilderness in his own backyard.”

Durbin’s bill is, however, supported by several Utah-based environmental groups including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Wasatch Mountain Club and the Utah chapter of the Sierra Club.

“As we face the future of climate change, protection of the last wild places is even more essential to ensure ecosystem durability and species adaptation,” the Utah Wilderness Coalition — a group of roughly 200 conservation organizations — wrote in a letter to Congress. “A human tale exists here as well: these lands contain some of the most archaeological and culturally valuable resources in the country.”

“I am optimistic that as the science comes in and as the threat of climate change becomes more severe, that the Utah congressional delegation will realize the time for stunts and games and talk is over and we really need to take action to protect the places that we live,” said Scott Groene, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “ That means doing things like enacting this bill to protect large landscapes as to mitigate the effects of climate change.”

An aide for Durbin told KUER the senator supports conserving lands in Illinois and that he would consider supporting the designation of land in his home state as wilderness if the U.S. Forest Service signs off.

The coalition did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Romney and Curtis’ legislation.

Durbin’s bill has only received a hearing one time in 2009 and last year’s retaliatory bill didn’t get one.

“It is clear the Red Rock Wilderness Act is not serious legislation, but an effort to fundraise off a liberal base that doesn’t know any better,” Curtis said in a statement. “A senator from Illinois should not be bullying rural Utah, especially when he has land back home that needs protection.”

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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