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Utah Wilderness
San Rafael Western Legacy District and National Conservation Act
House Roll Call No. 240
106th Congress, 2nd Session

Failed: 210-214 (see complete tally)
Dramatic sandstone formations characterize the wild canyons and uplands of Utah's San Rafael Swell region. The area is home to the state's largest herds of desert bighorn sheep and a number of threatened and endangered cactus species. Unfortunately, the fragile soils of these public lands are threatened by the heavy use of off-road vehicles, and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) currently has no plan in place to restrict these vehicles. Environmental groups want Congress to declare more than 1 million acres of roadless lands in the Swell as wilderness to protect them from development and off-road vehicles while still permitting hunting, fishing, and camping. BLM is working to designate some of these lands as "wilderness study areas" which would give them interim protection until Congress decides whether or not to declare them wilderness areas. However, environmentalists believe that BLM has been far too slow to act, leaving potential wilderness insufficiently protected.

This year Representatives Chris Cannon (R-UT) and James Hansen (R-UT) introduced H.R. 3605, the San Rafael Western Legacy District and National Conservation Act. The bill would create a "western legacy district" in Emery County, Utah, an area encompassing a large portion of the Swell. Under the bill, existing and proposed wilderness study areas would be designated as a "national conservation area," which would provide far less protection for the Swell than would wilderness designation.

Environmental groups opposed H.R. 3605 for failing to include portions of the Swell outside of Emery County, for failing to provide wilderness protection for more than 80 percent of the area that currently qualifies for wilderness designation, and for failing to address the problem of off-road vehicles.

Representative Jay Inslee (D-WA) successfully attached an amendment to include San Rafael Swell areas outside Emery County in the bill that passed by a vote of 228 to 194. Representative Mark Udall (D-CO) also introduced an amendment to designate key areas in the Swell as wilderness study areas; however, Representative Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) proposed a much weaker substitute to the Udall amendment. The Boehlert substitute would have allowed BLM to determine which areas would be designated as wilderness study areas, even though BLM has been slow to act on wilderness designations to date. The Boehlert amendment passed 212-211, with the bill's sponsors holding the vote open beyond the normal voting period, and with the Speaker of the House casting the deciding vote to pass the substitute amendment.

Finally, Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ) put forward an amendment that would have barred off-road vehicles from designated and potential wilderness study areas. Another Boehlert substitute amendment was offered that would have allowed BLM to decide where off-road vehicle use should be allowed. Supporters of the Holt amendment opposed Boehlert, countering that BLM currently permits off-road vehicles in wilderness study areas and other wild lands and that this policy has led to significant environmental damage. On June 7, 2000, the House defeated the Boehlert substitute by a 210-214 vote (House roll call vote 240). NO is the pro-environment vote.

In a victory for wilderness advocates, the bill's sponsors pulled H.R. 3605 from floor consideration without voting on the Holt amendment or on final passage of the bill. Supporters of the bill subsequently attempted to attach it as a rider to the Fiscal Year 2001 Interior appropriations bill; their attempt failed and the bill died, at least for this session of Congress.

Vote Map: House Roll Call No. 240
Votes For : 210
Votes Against : 214
Not Voting : 11


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