Utah Delegation Spreads Disinformation on Wilderness


On March 25, 1996 Senate debate began on the Omnibus Parks Bill. This package contained 30 or so good bills plus the Utah anti-wilderness bill S.884. A filibuster ensued, and a cloture vote on the filibuster was taken on Wednesday April 27. The vote was 51 vs. 49 against cloture, whereas 61 votes would be required to stop the filibuster. S.884 was dropped from the Omnibus Parks Bill!
Although Senate Bill 884 was defeated by filibuster on the Senate floor in late March, the issue is by no means dead. The Utah delegation continues to perpetuate a number of amazing untruths.

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The Disinformation Campaign

It seems that Senator Bennett, along with Senator Hatch, Representative Jim Hansen, and Governor Mike Leavitt, have engaged a massive "black propaganda" campaign to discredit the environmental movement's recent huge Senate victory. The attempt is to create a false impression that people of Utah don't want a generous BLM wilderness bill, and that the wilderness preservation movement in Utah is basically a hoax perpetrated by wealthy out-of- state environmental groups.
"Black" propaganda consists of a barrage of misinformation, misrepresentation, and outright lies directed at sympathetic media outlets. The strategy is to so overload the media with such stories that any cries of protest by the parties being smeared will be ignored or even contribute to the impression that they are guilty as charged.
Specifically, Bennett, Hatch, and Hansen have made the following misleading or false claims as presented below. Information presented here is the result of research into the Congressional Record. Back to main selection.


Environmental groups and other supporters of the 5.7 million acre wilderness proposal were paid to appear at wilderness hearings and to write letters and make phone calls to Senate offices.
The following is a direct quote from Senator Bob Bennett, in a KCPW interview on March 27, 1996:

"Even if the majority were in favor of the 5.7 [million acre wilderness bill] in that process [last year's wilderness hearings] would be very misleading [sic], and I'll tell you why. As we went to the 5 locations that we had hearings at around the state, we had the same people testifying at each one. They would get in their busses and caravan with us. SUWA [Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance] paid people to come in and testify."

Direct quote from a letter from 300 "Utah Democrat and Republican elected officials" read aloud on the Senate floor by Orrin Hatch during debate on the Utah wilderness bill on March 25, 1996:

"The environmental community, both in and outside Utah, was well organized and paid its partisans to testify. They even rented buses and vans to transport these people from location to location."

A direct quote from Senator Orrin Hatch in a Senate floor speech on 3/25/96:

"We had almost the same people at every location, demanding to testify, saying the same things each time, and making it look like they had more numbers than they really did."


No one was paid a dime to attend a single hearing in the state of Utah. The supporters of 5.7 million acres of wilderness were in the majority at every hearing, even those in rural counties. In Salt lake City, the hearing certainly was 90% or more in favor of 5.7 million acres of wilderness. Back to main selection.


The "wealthy" national environmental groups spent "millions" or even "tens of millions" of dollars on advertising in an effort to manipulate the senate vote.
Direct quote from Senator Orrin Hatch during the Senate debate on the Omnibus Parks Bill amendment on March 25, 1996:

"The fact is that we are being sandbagged not so much by our colleagues but by a well-orchestrated and well-financed campaign staged by huge, huge national environmental lobbies who are pursuing their own national agenda."

Direct quote from Senator Bob Bennett in a KCPW interview with Blair Fulmer on March 25, 1996:

"I will confess I think that in terms of the PR battle over the Utah wilderness, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance has probably won that battle, at least for now. The full-page ads that they have run and the tremendously powerful national campaign for which they've paid -- I do not know how much it cost; my guess is that it's in the millions of dollars that they've spent on this -- they're certainly capable of raising millions of dollars...."

Note: According to Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance executive director Mike Matz, SUWA's total annual budget for 1994 was under $700,000. The majority of this budget is devoted to SUWA's considerable overhead expenses and the salaries for full-time staff.
From Senator Frank Murkowski's speech during Senate floor debate on the Omnibus Parks Bill on March 25 1996:

"This type of big business, well-financed campaigns that they establish are really not constructive.... This is really a battle between some of the well-financed elitists and the people who live in the State of Utah.... Unfortunately the playing field does not happen to be level. We find ourselves being tied up by a group of elitists. This debate is really a difference of opinion between the well-financed elitist lobby who wants all or nothing and the rest of us who are looking for resource protection and balance..."


Wouldn't it be wonderful if even one green group had anywhere near the resources of the extractive industries? This victory was accomplished simply because people care about wilderness, and don't want to see it lost. Back to main selection.


The majority of the people of Utah do not want more than 2 million acres of Wilderness.
Frank Murkowski stated in a Senate floor speech on March 25, 1996 stated:

"As we have seen, the intensive lobbying by a relatively small segment of motivated extremists who say 2 million acres is not enough, does not represent the prevailing attitude in Utah by a long shot..."

A statement by Governor Mike Leavitt, in a letter to Senator Hatch, and read by him into the Congressional Record on March 25, 1996:

"Please accept this letter as an explanation of the public response which my office received with respect to this [Utah wilderness] issue. Personnel in the Governor's Office of Planning and Budget read, recorded, and responded to each of the 3,031 individual letters which were received last year and also categorized the 551 individual public testimonies received at the public hearings held in Utah last spring and summer. In examining this information, 51% of these letters and testimonies were in favor of no wilderness designation whatsoever or something less than the 5.7 million acre proposal. Certain groups throughout the state have publicly stated that support for 5.7 million acres of wilderness has ranged from 70% at a minimum, to upwards of 75%...this is most definitely a misrepresentation of actual public sentiment."


In June 1995 the Governor's office and Planning and Budget issued a summary of the written and oral public input to the Governor during the spring 1995 wilderness review process which showed that 71% of all public input to the Governor's office did support the 5.7 million acre proposal. Actually the true number was higher than this because 331 comments in which the individual did not specify ANY exact acreage figure were arbitrarily dumped by the Governor's office into the "less than 2 million acre" category -- whereas videotape of the wilderness hearings reveals that many of those individuals who did not verbally specify an acreage figure were wearing "5.7 Wild" buttons.
The Governor's office "adjusted" the figures to suggest that a majority of public comment did NOT support more than 2 million acres. This magic was accomplished by the following manipulations:
1. The Governor's letter categorically excludes a 14,184 signature petition supporting the 5.7 million acre wilderness proposal (H.R. 1500). This exclusion changed the ratios of support for various amounts of wilderness to: 46% supporting more than 2 million acres (of which 43% supported 5.7 million acres); 43% supporting 2 million acres or less; and 10% "unspecified."
Since most of these "unspecified" testimonies probably supported MORE than 2 million acres, the truth is that even without the 14,000 petition signatures, a solid majority of the public comment supported more than 2 million acres.
2. The Governor then assumes that the 10 percent of remaining "Exact Acreage Unspecified" public comment should be included in the "less than 2 million acres" category. Voila! Suddenly a majority of the public comment is opposed to more than two million acres! This is certainly inaccurate and disingenuous. Back to main selection.


Public lands in Utah will not be commercially developed if they are not designated wilderness, because they are already protected from development under existing law.
Senator Bob Bennett stated on the Senate floor on March 25, 1996:

"There are 8 million acres where there will never be a strip mall or a hamburger stand or any other kind of commercial exploitation in the state of Utah. There are 8 million acres right now in national forests..."


Senator Bennett is referring to National Forests! This has nothing to do with the current battle to preserve 5.7 million acres of BLM land, or his effort to "protect" only 1.8 million acres! Even so, there is record of chaining and clearcutting on national forests. And what about the proposed Kaiparowits coal mine provided for by S.884? Back to main selection.


Grazing will be eliminated on lands designated as wilderness.
Senator Bob Bennett stated on the Senate floor on March 25, 1996:

"Under the terms of the Wilderness Act, prior activities are grandfathered in and allowed to go on. If you had a grazing permit, according to the act, you can continue to graze. If you had a mining permit, according to the act, you can continue to mine. In fact, we know that once something is designated as wilderness, all that goes out the window; it is walled off; no human activity whatsoever regardless of what may have been going on there before."


There is no basis for this kind of emotion-laden statement by Mr. Bennett. No precedent exists to indicate that grazing and mining will be curtailed in wilderness areas. This is the sort of statement has been heard over and over from the extractive users of public lands. It is not true. Back to main selection.


"Hard release" language has been eliminated from the Senate version of the Utah "wilderness bill" S.884.
Senator Orrin Hatch stated in a Senate floor speech on March 25, 1996 (at Congressional Record page S2872):

"Our release language does contain a sentence that has raised questions. This sentence says: "Such lands shall not be managed for the purpose of protecting their suitability for wilderness designation.... This sentence in the substitute does not foreclose a Federal manager from managing an area of land to protect its wilderness character. This sentence does not prohibit a BLM district manager from managing an area of land for its wilderness values. Statements to the contrary are false." [Emphasis added to clarify apparent intended semantic differentiations.]


This sounds like complete double-speak, and it is. In a March 18, 1996 letter to all members of the U.S. Senate, law professor Charles F. Wilkinson (the leading legal expert on wilderness "release" language) specifically identified the Utah delegation's "release" language as "hard release." Wilkinson wrote:

"The proposed language is a stark contrast to the "soft release" language included in past wilderness bills...the difference between the standard "soft release" and the unprecedented "hard release" now proposed for S. 884 is fundamental. With "soft release" the agency may use its management discretion to protect roadless areas important for wildlife and to create opportunities for primitive recreation and solitude. "Hard release," as proposed by the Utah senators, would prohibit the professional federal land managers from protecting these values.... "

In a November 9, 1995 letter to Representative James Hansen, the Director of the Bureau of Land Management stated that

"Fully 99 percent of wilderness study acreage not designated as wilderness under [S. 884] would be made available for hardrock mineral development... and for new oil, gas, and coal development."

This new language in S. 884 is indistinguishable from the language in the original S. 884 referred to in the Director's letter.
In testimony before the House Natural Resources Committee, Sylvia Baca, U. S. Department of the Interior stated on June 29, 1995 that

"The bill [H.R.1745] would create the ironic situation that management inside wilderness could be less protective than management of public lands not designated as wilderness."
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The 1866 Mining law was repealed in 1972. This old law had a provision called RS2477 allowing roads to be built between points of travel. The new law grandfathers in old roads constructed prior to 1972. Under this loophole, Utah special interest groups and county commissioners are plowing streambeds and cattle trails into roads in potential wilderness areas so that the areas can't be considered for wilderness.
Colorado has eight outstanding road claims. Utah has 5,000!
Representative Jim Hansen stated to a group of Utah wilderness advocates, hikers, and professional guides in Washingon DC on March 25, 1997:

"If these road claims are disallowed, rural county schools will have to helicopter their kids to school."


No one in the environmental community wants to disallow legitimate RS2477 road claims. Kids are not being helicoptered now, and will not be in the future. However, it is the special interests who are making these road claims under a 130 year old loophole, trying to preclude any more land from being considered as wilderness.

Jim Hansen then said:

"I've hiked that land more than any person in this room..."


Jim, I'd love to believe this (Fred). But if you are making statements like this to this audience, I can't help but wonder what you are saying to uninformed members of Congress from other states.
Back to main selection.


These are but a few of the dozens of statements of distortion and misinformation being stated on record and broadcast in the media by Senator Bob Bennett, Orrin Hatch, James Hansen, and Michael Leavitt.
If this seems outrageous and inappropriate, take the initiative to complain, as loudly and publicly as you possibly can, that the truth is being deliberately twisted. Tell your friends, call your Representative and Senators to find out when they will be holding public meetings. Make an appointment. A five minute visit or a question asked during an open meeting can have a big impact. And especially, write a letter to the editor.
If these distortions and misrepresentations go uncorrected, the public will perceive that the Utah politicians are essentially correct in their insinuations and allegations. On the other hand, the simple act of correcting these deceptions will further discredit the delegation with its own propaganda.
If you want to support more wilderness protection for public land in southern Utah, you may want to support grassroots organizations such as the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Back to main selection.

This analysis was originally prepared by Utah wilderness activist Ray Wheeler and adapted for the this presentation by Fred Elbel.
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