USU students help support Utah wilderness
By Rachel Calsruh
Fifteen USU students didn't have biking, hiking, backpacking or boating in mind when they headed for sunny Southern Utah last weekend. Instead, they spent their Saturday mapping, photographing, measuring, surveying and analyzing.
The students, members of USU's ECOS (Ecological Coalition of Students), spent the weekend in the San Rafael Swell as volunteers, collecting data to help support pro-wilderness legislation.
The group surveyed and photographed three Bureau of Land Management roads, and mapped parts of the muddy creek area, said ECOS president Myke Bybee. "It snowed Sunday, and our research had to be cut short," Bybee said. "But, we still got some great information on Saturday."
ECOS is one of the many conservation groups that has collaborated with the Sierra Club's Adopt a Wilderness program. The program is designed to protect areas that haven't been legally designated as wilderness, but are pending legislation, said Sierra Club conservation organizer Marc Heileson.
Heileson spoke to ECOS last Wednesday and explained how the Utah Wilderness Council is trying to add 2.5 million acres of wilderness to the current 3.2 million.
This proposed land is known as defacto wilderness (or a Wilderness Study Area) until the bill is voted on.
"Adopt a Wilderness encourages the community to get-to-know wilderness areas, and become attached their beauty," said Heileson.
He said the BLM doesn't want more wilderness, because the restrictions infringe on their mining and developing rights. The BLM uses aerial photographs to show there are usable roads in wild land areas and, consequently, can't be designated as wilderness.
Conservation groups are taking ground photos to show that most of these roads are old out of use mining roads overgrown with vegetation.
"Some of the 'roads' that the BLM claims are legitimate, are so overgrown that we walked right over them without knowing they were roads. I'm talking about two or three feet of growth," said Bybee.
Heileson said legislation will begin in 2000.
"We feel confident that this bill will be passed, but we need volunteers like ECOS because we can't lose ground while we're fighting," he said.
Recreational vehicles, loggers, and miners could affect the Wilderness Study Areas by forging roads, and destroying nature, said Heileson. Adopt a Wilderness volunteers are asked to document and photo these activities to prove that these new roads were imposed illegally.