The BLM’s Moab field office has withdrawn a permit to allow a private helicopter company to shuttle customers in and out of Mineral Bottom. The landing site is south of Labyrinth Canyon and north of Canyonlands National Park in the Green River corridor.

Last fall, SUWA appealed to the Interior Board of Land Appeals the BLM’s decision to grant the multi-year special recreation permit. It would have authorized the company to clatter into and out of the area every week during boating season, bringing the sights, sounds, and environmental disruption of loud, regular helicopter shuttles to a backcountry airstrip within deep canyon walls that currently has no commercial air traffic.

While that traffic would have shattered human visitors’ experiences of backcountry solitude, the most serious damage would have fallen on a rare population of desert bighorn sheep. The adjacent Hell Roaring, Mineral Bottom, Spring, and Tenmile Canyons are all critical lambing and rutting habitat for the important native species.

SUWA argued, among other things, that the BLM’s analysis failed to consider the helicopters’ impact on desert bighorns. Bolstering our argument was the excellent testimony of a bighorn sheep expert who identified specific deficiencies in the agency’s environmental analysis. Bighorns are particularly sensitive to helicopter traffic, and even the occasional—but recurring—low-level overflight could drive this endemic population from its important habitat in these Green River-area canyons.

Rather than fight our appeal, the BLM decided to withdraw the permit, opting to “set aside its decision [to approve the permit] and revise its analysis.”

A trip along this desert river corridor promises quiet beauty against the soft murmur of the river. A wonderful bonus is the chance—a pretty good chance—of seeing the bighorn sheep that are emblematic of the desert landscape. The BLM’s reversal is a big win for bighorn sheep and for human visitors to a still-wild Green River corridor and its quiet, surprisingly remote tributary canyons.

—Kya Marienfeld

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, spring 2019 issue)