WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Thursday gently advised the sponsors of a bill to designate 9.4 million acres in Utah as federally protected wilderness to shrink their ambitions.
"We suggest an approach that is more geographically focused," Bob Abbey, director of the Bureau of Land Management, told a House panel at a hearing.
Abbey praised the bill's goal of preserving Utah's famed red rock landscapes and agreed that at least 6.6 million acres covered by the bill have been identified by BLM as containing characteristics associated with wilderness designation.
However, he said he couldn't speak to the suitability of the rest of the lands since they hadn't been reviewed by BLM. The agency would want to conduct a review before the passage of any legislation.
Abbey said the administration considers several areas in the bill deserving of protection: Desolation Canyon, the Deep Creek Mountains, Grand Gulch and parts of the San Rafael Swell.
Known as America's Red Rocks Wilderness Act, the bill has been introduced in the House every two years for the past 20 years.
Over that time the lands covered by the bill have grown by roughly 3 million acres and now comprise an area larger than Maryland but smaller than West Virginia.