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Hemmed in by Wilderness Restrictions : Utah County a Monument to Federal Control of Land

March 01, 1987|LISA LEVITT RYCKMAN | Associated Press

BLANDING, Utah — Calvin Black's Best Western motel is near U.S. 191, a respectable ribbon of road that connects this remote area with Interstate 70 and the rest of the world.

When he was growing up, nothing was paved.

"You never saw anybody, but we always thought it was beautiful country," Black said. "And my dad would say, 'Someday, we'll have roads in here and people can come in and enjoy our beautiful country with us.' "

His dad was only half right.

"What they've really done is, some of them have come in and tried to take it away from us," Black said. "And we resent that."

Calvin Black, landowner, politician and entrepreneur in San Juan County, a region of unspoiled beauty in Utah's southeastern corner, would be happy to elaborate on just how much most of his neighbors resent such intrusions, and why.

"About a million acres of the county's total 5 million acres has already been set aside by Congress as national parks, national monuments, national recreation areas and Forest Service wilderness," he said. "And we think that's enough."

Most of Land Reserved

As chairman of the San Juan County Commission, Black has been an outspoken opponent of these wilderness designations. The public lands take in all the county's 5 million acres except for the 1-million-acre Navajo reservation and 435,000 acres of private property. What that means, Black says, is that San Juan County residents can live on the land, and they can look at the land, but they can't own it.

"A lot of people look at wealth as office buildings and banks and even high-tech," Black said, "but those are just secondary services. All wealth comes from the land, and whoever controls the land, controls the people."

Black knows about land and wealth. In 1947, at 18, he and a partner bought a jackhammer, a shovel and a wheelbarrow and started mining uranium. That business continued until 1981, when unprofitable years forced him to shut it down.

Some of his mining income subsidized his 20-year career in state and local politics, and some of it was invested in motels, service stations, convenience stores and car washes from Provo to Blanding. He flies his own plane around the state to keep tabs on his businesses.

'Extremely Limited Economy'

The land has been good to Calvin Black, but that is not necessarily the case for his constituents, and he wants to keep everyone's options open.

Any further wilderness designation, combined with what has already happened, "will virtually eliminate any development activity, production of resources in the future," he said. "Our economy will be extremely limited to whatever the agriculture is that can survive, and maybe a service economy.

"To legislatively set aside other land for preservation and non-use, except to backpack in, is simple redundancy," he added. "So we think it's enough."

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