Testimony of Carl Fisher: Executive Director, Save Our Canyons

Testimony of Carl Fisher
Executive Director, Save Our Canyons
House Committee on Natural Resources,
Subcommittee on Federal Lands
H.R. 5718, Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act
November 15, 2016

First, thank you to Chairman Bishop, Ranking Member Grijalva, Subcommittee Chairman McClintock and Subcommittee Ranking Member Tsongas, thank you for the opportunity to testify today on H.R. 5718, the Central Wasatch National Conservation and Recreation Area Act, and for giving this unprecedented collaborative legislation the opportunity to be heard. My name is Carl Fisher, I’m the executive director of Save Our Canyons, a Salt Lake City based organization founded in 1972 to protect the wildness and beauty of the Wasatch mountains, canyons and foothills. Over the past 44 years, our organization has worked to establish the Wilderness areas existing today and also to expand these areas to encompass entire ecosystems, protect highly prized recreational lands, and preserve what remains of our pristine watershed resources. Our membership consists of residents, recreationists, tourists, businesses and organizations – backcountry skiers and resort skiers, conservationists and trail enthusiasts, teachers and business leaders. We all flock to the Wasatch as our gathering place, where we shed our societal labels and immerse ourselves among the peaks, wildflowers, and slopes of delicious powder snow.

We are incredibly appreciative of our local elected officials in Salt Lake and Summit Counties – Mayor Ben McAdams, Councilman Chris Robinson, Mayor Dolan, Mayor Biskupski, Mayor Cullimore, Mayor Pollard, Councilman Andy Beerman for both making the Wasatch a priority and for forging a plan to sustain this incredibly important resource. Finally, we appreciate the support of Congressman Jason Chaffetz, Congressman Chris Stewart, and Congresswoman Mia Love and their leadership in introducing this critical component of the Mountain Accord process.

The Wasatch Mountains rise sharply from the most populous region of the State of Utah, running north to south for nearly 200 miles. This range forms the jagged skyline that is the backdrop to Utah’s most populous and productive region. There is perhaps no other place in the world where you have this type of natural landscape, immediately adjacent to an ever urbanizing population of over a million people. For decades, this population has overwhelmingly called for the preservation of the Wasatch, the geologic majesty of its high alpine peaks, its habitat forming aspen forests, its life-giving streams and wetlands, and its bounty of high quality year-round recreational experiences.

Save Our Canyons is honored, not only to have been a participant in this unprecedented collaboration, but to support HR 5718 as one of the cornerstone deliverables of this process. This is not to say participation was easy, throughout the process we knew we would need to make some hard decisions and to compromise. The result achieves several important actions from the protection of habitat for moose, elk, golden eagles to the preservation of adventure inspiring ridgelines. It also confines intensive activities to already-disturbed areas of our canyons and assures that the natural infrastructure remains un-fragmented, intact, and will continue to be resilient going forward. It strives to resolve conflicts between wilderness and non-wilderness recreational opportunities by allowing access to trails while protecting wilderness values. Of course, our organizations has been diametrically opposed to allowing any development in these areas, hence our advocacy for Wilderness designation and our resistance for any modifications to its boundaries in the region for the past four decades.

What needs to happen for the Wasatch doesn’t end with this legislation, it begins here with a request to protect the qualities of this landscape that cannot be built or engineered, they can only be protected. Save Our Canyons looks forward not only to working to realize this important step with this legislation, but also to being a partner in realizing the other goals of the Mountain Accord process. We’re better for this process too; working toward a common vision with stakeholders with whom we’ve had longstanding disputes has built trust and understanding where there was once vitriol and contempt. We might not be resolving all the issues in the Wasatch, or on public lands for that matter, but this legislation is a step in the right direction toward that end. Perhaps the best summary of this process and legislation is stated by one of Utah’s native sons, Wallace Stegner:

“One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope. When it fully learns that cooperation, not rugged individualism, is the quality that most characterizes and preserves it, then it will have achieved itself and outlived its origins. Then it has a chance to create a society to match its scenery.”

This legislation creates this opportunity to do right by our society, who collaboratively developed its text and their collective values while simultaneously protecting the innate characteristics of its scenic, recreational and ecological values.
We hope that through the leadership of Rep. Chaffetz and others in the Utah Delegation, that this committee and the rest of your colleagues in Congress will join you in championing this locally driven consensus based process on behalf of hundreds of interest groups and thousands of your constituents.

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