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A coalition of environmental groups on Wednesday (Feb. 23) unveiled a proposal to designate as wilderness 3.6 million acres of sprawling canyons, blue-ribbon trout streams, twisting red rock formations, and popular hunting and hiking areas in the three national forests in southern Utah, according to the Associated Press.
The coalition, consisting of 12 groups, first presented its plans to the U.S. Forest Service in the fall but did not publicly unveil them until now.
Wilderness designations within the forests would bar users from operating off-road vehicles in the area and prevent industry from logging or drilling for oil and gas. If the groups’ recommendations were accepted, those restrictions would apply to 75% of the three forests’ combined 4.8 million acres.
Kevin Walker, with the coalition group Red Rock Forests, said the plans were reasonable even for off-road vehicle advocates because half the areas of the forests would still be within a mile from a road.
“We often get characterized as wanting to kick all the motors off state parks. That’s not true,” he said.
Walker said wilderness protection was necessary to stem a flood of increased four-wheel recreational-vehicle use in the areas, which damage the landscape.
Management plans have been under way for several years on the three forests but could be caught up on new rules approved by the Bush administration affording national forests more discretion to approve logging and other commercial projects without lengthy environmental reviews.