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For week ended October 03, 1999 Posted 10 Oct 1999

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New grass-roots group gets support from Mormons (Rural group gains clout in Utah)

Summarized by Eric Bunker

New grass-roots group gets support from Mormons (Rural group gains clout in Utah)
Deseret News 30Sep99 D2
By Lucinda Dillon: Deseret News staff writer

CEDAR CITY, UTAH -- Bro. Lloyd Mecham a lifelong church member, church leader and retired principal, is leading the charge of a group of activists affiliated with, People for the USA, a growing grassroots organization based in Pueblo, Colorado. PFUSA is exerting notable political pressure in the Beehive State on public lands issues. Now there are 2,000 members in Utah. Chapters have sprouted in Kanab, Boulder, Escalante, Tropic, Panguitch, Cedar City, St. George/Hurricane, Mt. Pleasant, Antimony, Salt Lake City, Vernal, Duchesne, Nephi and Roosevelt. This has been a big summer for PFUSA.

The organization has gained significant strength since President Clinton designated a significant chunk of Southern Utah as the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. PFUSA has tripled its statewide membership in eight months, and is organizing rural Utahns like never before. Leaders in Uintah County organized a massive write-in campaign to the Bureau of Land Management, and the group has activated hundreds of members to show up at county commission meetings, rallies and political gatherings during the last few months, often in long vehicle caravans.

To these locals, the monument and interjection from federal employees who manage the land means the end to a way of life. They are saying that roads they have used for ranching and recreation are now protected in the monument area and may be closed. They additionally claim that power plants and coals mines that would have brought lucrative jobs and economy to the area were scared away by the monument designation along with other riches in gas, minerals and other resources that could have benefited their community's pocketbook are forever trapped in the ground within monument borders. They also say that BLM and environmental regulations have stymied the movie and film industry, which once flourished in the area.

"We feel the rights to live in this valley and raise our families are being attacked, and these special interest groups would like nothing more than to have this valley empty," said Rick Crawford, who runs a PFUSA chapter in Escalante.

Utah efforts recently were the spotlight of the PFUSA's national newsletter. "In Utah, where Green activists have centered their national fight to lock up millions of public lands as 'wilderness,' the PFUSA campaign is taking off like a rocket."

"It has just boomed," said Sylvia Allen, PFUSA field director for the southwestern states. "We are able to show people that rather than just being frustrated, they can come together . . . be politically active and let their voices be heard."

In rural Utah, the organization already has established a name for itself. "They have made an impact," said Rep. Tom Hatch, R-Panguitch, whose constituents are at the heart of conflict

"Utah is a top priority for us," said PFUSA communications director Joe Snyder from the group's Pueblo office. He said that members are encouraged to be educated, to show up wherever decisions are being made and to work within the established structure for change. It is inappropriate for Utah residents, no matter how frustrated, to demonstrate an "our guns are blazing" attitude, he said. "We wince at that kind of thing. That's a sure way to lose support."

In their demonstrations, the group is minding their manners, keeping signs and placards on the ground, staying behind the boundaries, with no yelling or gesturing.

Copyright 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 Kent Larsen · Privacy Information