Environmentalists Accuse Leavitt of Using False Documents

Environmentalists Accuse Leavitt of Using False Documents

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John Hollenhorst ReportingThe war over wilderness heated up a few degrees today. Environmentalists are accusing Governor Leavitt of using false and misleading information to undermine their cause.

Bogus, false, misleading--that's how they describe a laptop computer presentation the Governor has been presenting around the state. As is so often the case, the dispute over wilderness centers on roads.

Land does not legally qualify for wilderness protection if it has roads or development. And that's what shows up in the laptop computer presentation Governor Leavitt often delivers to reporters, politicians and voters showing roads and communication towers in areas proposed for wilderness.

Heidi McIntosh, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance: "We want to call on the governor to stop making bogus claims."

Environmentalists hauled out their own maps and said the governor's laptop show is flat out wrong.

Heidi McIntosh, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance: "No roads are in the wilderness proposal. There are no communication sites or any other kinds of development within the wilderness proposal.”

Randy Johnson, Governor's Staff: "The governor would never do that."

Governor Leavitt's point man in the controversy says the governor relied on maps provided two or three years ago by the environmentalists themselves.

Randy Johnson, Governor's Staff: "They need to give us new maps. Because the maps we have are clearly not accurate. We can only rely on the information they give us for their proposals."

Environmentalists say their maps have always been drawn in such a way to exclude roads and development. Central to this spat is a common technique in wilderness mapping called cherry-stemming. A large area is proposed for wilderness, but long narrow corridors are specifically excluded where there are roads and development. Critics say cherry-stemming itself is a fraudulent approach.

Randy Johnson, Governor's Staff: "You're talking about a, quote, roadless area. And then you're talking about cherry-stemming a road in the middle of it. Somehow that concept just doesn't wash with me."

Environmentalists say cherry-stemming is a long-recognized method of protecting land while allowing human activity to continue. They say the governor needs to get his facts straight.

Heidi McIntosh, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance: "He has made bad policy based on bad information."

The two sides have been battling over wilderness for two decades. This latest dispute suggests they're doing a lot of talking, but not sitting down and talking to each other very much.

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