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Matheson Introduces Wilderness and Watershed Protection Bill

Washington D.C.- Congressman Jim Matheson, supported by numerous Salt Lake County municipalities, environmental, and business groups, announced federal legislation today that would protect watershed across the Wasatch Front.  Matheson introduced the Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act, H.R. 2808, in the U.S. House of Representatives.

“As we come together and reflect on our history in the Salt Lake Valley this week, many things that attracted the pioneers to Utah continue to be valued today.  In particular, since 1847, something that has distinguished our prosperity, quality of life, and growth in the arid West has been reliable clean water from the canyons of the Wasatch Range,” said Matheson.

The Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act is a forward looking protection of Salt Lake Valley water resources as well as preservation of environmentally sensitive and economically important backcountry lands.  Specifically, the legislation expands federal protection to 24,961 additional acres of Wasatch Front canyons, including new and additional wilderness areas on Grandeur Peak, Twin Peaks and Mount Olympus.

Matheson said the bill sets aside more than 11,000 acres within “special management areas” to strengthen watershed protection while continuing permitted use by helicopter skiing and backcountry access. It also provides access to maintain private water supplies and allows for avalanche control to ensure public safety.

“For over 25 years, many stakeholders have talked about the goal of watershed protection and enhanced recreation in the central Wasatch. With this legislation, a locally-driven, open and transparent public lands collaboration will provide a path forward to accomplish that goal,” said Matheson.”

Stakeholders, including Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County, praised the result.

“More than 500,000 people in the Salt Lake Valley rely on the water resources and enjoy the recreational and economic benefits of the Central Wasatch Mountains,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker. “The Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act, a plan that shares many of the same goals as our Wasatch Summit planning group, will help ensure that our water resources and mountain environment are protected for current and future generations. This proposed legislation was developed through an extensive process with stakeholders representing diverse interests. I fully support Congressman Matheson in his work to introduce this bill.”

Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams said, “As Mayor of a fast-growing metropolitan area, I support this effort to protect our critical watershed. Future populations and economic growth depend on an affordable, reliable source of clean drinking water. This legislation grew from a grass-roots, stakeholder-driven collaboration, where all points of view came together to forge consensus. It’s a Utah model that I believe holds the best chance for success.”

“We applaud the leadership of Congressman Matheson for reintroduction of this important legislation, which was locally created via a rigorous local process and will protect wildlife habitat, watershed, and recreational opportunities vital to our community's quality of life,” said Carl Fisher, executive director, Save our Canyons.

Matheson originally introduced the Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act in early 2010, following a lengthy stakeholder process that brought together representatives from the ski industry, outdoor recreation and canyon user groups, environmental organizations and local municipalities. Through an open and collaborative process this stakeholder group met for over a year, hammering out compromises on many issues that led to the initial language of the bill. Since its first introduction in 2010, the bill has had a congressional hearing in which the Forest Service offered several suggestions that have been incorporated into the current version of the bill.