U.S. Sen. Harry Reid saw an unrelated bill passing by and hitched a ride on it for his wilderness legislation, dismaying some Utahans.

Congress has approved legislation providing for 45,000 acres of federally managed land in White Pine County to be auctioned off to private bidders and another 557,000 acres to be designated as wilderness land. (See “Wilderness, Nev.,” Nov. 16)

Mike Katz, director of the Washington lobby group Campaign for America’s Wilderness, wrote, “When signed into law by the president, the new wilderness in eastern Nevada will raise to more than a million acres the wild public land protected during the 109th Congress. The Nevada bill is the sixth wilderness bill passed during the 109th Congress, which had already achieved an impressive bipartisan record of conserving public land.”

Less happy about the measure are Sen. Robert Bennett and Rep. Rob Bishop, both of Utah, who had planned to piggyback their own bill providing for development of Utah’s Washington County onto the Nevada wilderness bill. But suddenly the Nevada bill, supported by Nevada Sens. Harry Reid and John Ensign, was attached to a tax and trade bill and out of Congress while the Utah measure was left behind.

“I have no objection to Senator Reid’s bill because its underlying principles are identical to those in the Washington County land bill,” Republican Bennett wrote. “If it’s good public policy for Washington County, then it’s good public policy for Nevada and vice versa.” He said that he hopes Democrat Reid and Republican Ensign “will assist in our effort to get it passed” in the next Congress. Reid spokesperson Jon Summers declined to comment on whether Reid broke a promise to Bennett.

Not everyone considered the two measures compatible. The Bennett bill was under severe attack in Utah for supposedly unleashing rampant growth. “This legislation had serious opposition on both the Senate and House side, where Senator Reid’s bill did not,” Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance director Scott Groene told the Salt Lake Tribune.

The Nevada bill had originally been opposed by the White Pine County Commission because it eased the way for shipping rural water to Clark County, but the commission’s concerns were reportedly addressed in the bill drafting process.

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Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...