Rural Land Legislation Unpopular with Environmental Activists

by Evelyn Call

Choice words were expressed towards Utah state legislators on Sunday at an event held to honor the writings of Edward Abbey, beloved environmentalist and author.  Ken Sanders, guest lecturer and close friend of Abbey, criticized local government officials for legislation introduced that would take back 30 million acres of federal land to be managed by the state.

The legislation introduced would set a 2014 deadline for the federal government to relinquish lands that are not national parks, military installations or wilderness.  In all, this constitutes about 50 percent of the entire state. The bill received final approval by the state legislature and is headed for the governor’s desk, where it’s expected to be signed into law.

“Whom are they taking back the land from? Utah has never owned that land.  Are they going to take it back to give to the Indians and Mexicans?” said Sanders.

Sanders’ sentiment was met with thunderous applause by the mostly older, environmentally conscious audience at an event held at the Marriott Library on University of Utah campus.  The hour-long event featured the writings of Edward Abbey, author of most notably “The Desert Solitaire” and “Monkey Wrench Gang.”   Both books, which became famous for their picturesque description of the landscape that surrounds southern Utah and northern Arizona, also became rallying cries for the modern environmental movement.

Abbey’s influence on environmental preservation was evident by the people who showed up Sunday to enjoy his writings and to honor him even 23 years after his death.  Many in the audience shook their heads and clapped, mirroring Sanders’ outrage at the current rural land legislation introduced by the state legislature.  The fear held by many is that the land, once under state and county domain, will be over developed by the oil and gas industry.

“I understand the need for oil and gas development.  I drove a car to this event but it is a trade off and not one I think we should make.  As Abbey would say ‘Growth for the sake of growth is a cancer’s ideology’,” said Sanders.

Jim, an employee of the federal government who didn’t feel comfortable disclosing his last name because of his position, said, “I think it’s a mistake to pass this legislation, the state legislature should be embarrassed.”

“I thinks it’s ridiculous what they are doing, this land was never Utah’s land.  We only got this state because it was understood that this would be federal land,“ said Krista Bowers, an environmental activist.

While discussing the current legislation, Sanders said, “I don’t think I know what Edward Abbey would think about some of the things that are going on.  I’m just not sure his old school monkey wrenching, burning down billboards, wrecking bulldozers is really going to have any impact anymore.  The stakes have gotten more and more serious.”

While there was much debate over the current environmental movement, part of the event also included the unveiling of a new exhibit at the Marriott Library. The exhibit showcases the history of Abbey’s writings and memorabilia from the author’s life long love affair with his surroundings in the deserts of the southwest. The exhibit will be available to the public for the entire month of March.  (543 word count)