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Activist Outing Program Pays Off - Utah Wilderness Launched in Senate

The Planet, July/August 1997, Volume 4, number 6
by John Byrne Barry
The fight to save the redrock canyons and wildlands of southern Utah got a boost in May when Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) introduced a bill to designate 5.7 million acres of the state as wilderness. Despite opposition from Utah's two senators, Republicans Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett, the Illinois freshman agreed to champion the cause of Utah's wilds in the upper chamber -- a testament to the effectiveness of the Sierra Club national activist outing program.

The story started in 1995, when two volunteers from the Chicago area, Clayton Daughenbaugh and Patrick Murphy, joined a dozen other Club members for an activist outing to visit roadless areas in southern Utah, at that time threatened by the "anti-wilderness" bills introduced by Hatch and Rep. Jim Hansen (R-Utah). Participants visited areas targeted for development by mining and energy companies and learned organizing skills from experienced conservation leaders.

Inspired by hiking on the threatened wildlands, Daughenbaugh and Murphy returned to Illinois, formed a Utah Wilderness Task Force in their chapter with themselves as co-chairs and set to work building grassroots pressure on Illinois senators and representatives to sponsor Utah wilderness legislation. One of those representatives was Durbin, who had already co-sponsored Rep. Maurice Hinchey's (D-N.Y.) Utah wilderness bill, H.R. 1500, America's Redrock Wilderness Act. That winter, Durbin announced his plans to run for the Senate in 1996.

"We scheduled two meetings with Durbin," said Daughenbaugh, lands management chair of the Chicago Group. "The first was an endorsement interview and the second focused specifically on Utah wilderness. He agreed, if elected, to introduce a Utah bill -- as chief sponsor if the Democrats regained the Senate, as part of a group otherwise."

The Club worked to elect Durbin and with the help of the chapter's phone-tree network, continued to deluge his office with calls and letters supporting Utah wilderness. In January, Daughenbaugh, Murphy and other task-force members met with the new senator and urged him to sponsor a Utah bill even though the Senate remained under Republican control. Durbin visited Utah in April and in May -- a few weeks after Hinchey reintroduced H.R. 1500 in the House -- introduced the Senate companion bill S. 773, with eight co-sponsors. H.R. 1500 was first introduced in 1989 by then-Utah Rep. Wayne Owens (D).

"This is how the activist outing program is supposed to work," said Vicky Hoover, the veteran wilderness activist who kicked off the program back in 1993 with a trek to the California desert. "Participants don't just experience the wonders of a threatened place, they learn how to protect it."

"Patrick and I wouldn't be doing this if it weren't for that activist outing," Daughenbaugh said. "That crystallized the issue and gave us the tools and inspiration we needed to organize in our state."

The Club had been pushing for a Senate bill for years, but had not been able to find a senator willing to introduce one over the objections of both Utah senators. Senate protocol ordinarily dictates that an outsider not sponsor a bill affecting another state if that state's delegation opposes it. The anti- wilderness bill the Utah delegation pushed in the last Congress, however, threatened not just Utah lands, but all designated wilderness because it undermined provisions of the 1964 Wilderness Act itself. That and President Clinton's designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah last September made Utah wilderness a national issue and set the stage for Durbin's introduction of S. 773.

The bill's eight Senate co-sponsors -- all Democrats -- are Barbara Boxer (Calif.), Russell Feingold (Wis.), Edward Kennedy (Mass.), John Kerry (Mass.), Carol Moseley-Braun (Ill.), Patty Murray (Wash.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and Robert Torricelli (N.J.).

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