The White Cliffs in the proposed Kanab Creek wilderness are a spectacular backdrop for U.S. Highway 89 -- the route used by travellers between three national parks (Zion, Bryce Canyon, and the North Rim of Grand Canyon). The quality of the scenery, the presence of a stream with riparian vegetation, and the diverse character of the area, varying from lava flows and sand dunes to dense ponderosa pine forests as well as vertical cliffs, make this an attractive, easily accessible area for backcountry recreation. Although the BLM found this area to be natural and "highly scenic and colorful," the agency denied it WSA status and released it from further wilderness review. We propose a 42,200-acre wilderness area reaching from Mount Carmel Junction on the west to Johnson Canyon on the east.

Imposing White Cliffs

The thousand-foot-high White Cliffs, composed of Navajo Sandstone, run the 10-mile length of the area from east to west. Kanab Creek cuts through the center of the area, flowing seven miles from north to south. Lava flows from craters to the north fill the bottom of Kanab Creek's canyon and sand dunes have formed on the bench below the cliffs. Pinyon and juniper trees cover most of the bench area and a ponderosa forest caps the benches above the White Cliffs. Cottonwood trees and other riparian vegetation line the entire length of Kanab Creek. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the threatened milkweed Asclepias welshii may occur in the area.

The Kanab Creek area offers outstanding opportunities for hiking, backpacking, photography, and rock climbing. Access is convenient off of U.S. 89 south of Mt. Carmel Junction. The undeveloped Diana's Throne campground is on the southwest boundary of the area, and a road follows Kanab Creek itself through private lands to the southern boundary.

Lost from Sight

The BLM found two-thirds of its 61,430-acre inventory unit to be in a natural condition; however, in a contorted and illogical argument, the agency did not find outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive recreation and thus did not designate a WSA. In its decision the BLM cited "flat terrain and open vegetation cover" as reasons for lack of outstanding solitude. But the sand dunes on the lower bench are capped with brush taller than a person; one is lost from sight when one is less than 100 yards over the first dune. Most of the bench area is a dense pinyon-juniper forest with closely spaced trees 15 feet high.

The several canyons also offer outstanding solitude and are not "open." They have a variety of smaller benches in them, dense pinyon-juniper forest, and thick vegetation taller than a person along the stream. Clearly, an area as large as this (7 by 17 miles) does offer outstanding solitude.

Beauty Contest

In a 1981 response to conservationists' protest of the BLM's decision to drop the area from study, the agency stated that "Pinyon and juniper tree vegetative screening does not inherently offer outstanding opportunities for solitude. Pinyon-juniper forests are common in the area of this unit and the protest does not indicate that the unit's forest cover is superior in density or other screening factors to the other pinyon-juniper forests of the area." Thus the BLM raised a standard often repeated in its wilderness inventory: a wild area had to be better than its neighbor to qualify for study. The mere fact of being splendidly typical in a region of splendid terrain was enough to disqualify an area, in the BLM's view.

This "beauty contest" approach to wilderness was ridiculously subjective and a transparent excuse for excluding lands the BLM wanted to leave open for development. The Kanab Creek wilderness was but one victim of this unwritten policy.

The BLM concocted these arguments and dropped the area from wilderness review in order to facilitate a coal slurry line for the now-defunct Allen-Warner Valley Energy System. Changes in energy demand, and environmental problems with mining the Alton coal field to the north -- which would have supplied Allen-Warner Valley -- have rendered the slurry line at least temporarily defunct.

The Utah Wilderness Coalition Proposal

Without wilderness designation Kanab Creek will remain at risk from energy development and other commercial schemes. Our 42,200-acre proposal encompasses the most natural part of the BLM's inventory unit. A short cherrystem excludes the undeveloped campground at Diana's Throne. A frequently used vehicle way along Kanab Creek itself is also excluded. Where vehicle ways crossed sand and did not appear to have frequent use, we included them in our proposal.

Rodney Greeno