Kya Marienfeld, Author at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance


  • June 15th, 2022

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently seeking public input on new plans to better manage dispersed camping, protect resources, and improve visitor experiences in three high-use areas near Moab, Utah. The BLM’s Moab field office, which manages 1.8 million acres of public lands in southeastern Utah, including 830,000 acres of lands proposed for wilderness designation under America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, is considering new dispersed camping plans for the the Labyrinth Rims/ Gemini Bridges Special Recreation Management Area, (120,037 acres), the Two Rivers Special Recreation Management Area (9,180 acres), and the Utah Rims Special Recreation Management Area (16,704 acres).

    Over the past decade, the rapid expansion of human-powered recreation across public lands in Utah has resulted in increasingly adverse impacts to wilderness values, wildlife, visitor experiences, and natural and cultural resources. According to a 2021 report by Dr. Christopher Monz, environmental impacts of human-powered recreation can be substantial and long-lasting, including soil compaction and erosion, loss of biological soil crusts, the spread of noxious weeds, destruction of cultural artifacts and landscapes, and wildlife habitat fragmentation and displacement.

    In Moab, this growth is particularly noteworthy. The area sees more than 3 million visitors annually, many of whom camp on BLM-managed public lands. As a result, the agency is seeing a proliferation of vehicle tracks and user-created routes, unattended campfires, more impacts to wildlife, destruction of fragile cultural sites, and damage to other natural resources. Accordingly, the BLM is revisiting its rules regarding dispersed camping in three of the most popular and highest-impacted areas.

    Most BLM-managed public lands in Utah are open to “dispersed camping,” meaning that visitors may camp in areas without dedicated campgrounds and associated facilities. According to the BLM, chief among the new management options it is considering is moving the three focus areas from an “open dispersed” to “designated dispersed” model. This means that free, no-amenity dispersed camping will still be available, but that instead of camping anywhere, visitors must set up in a designated site, usually marked with a sign or placard to indicate that it is a “designated” dispersed campsite.

    Click here to learn more about designated dispersed camping

    After an intensive inventory of existing disturbed camp areas, the BLM is proposing to select for designation sites that do not adversely impact resources such as wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and other visitors’ experiences. According to the agency, these proposals “are designed to make dispersed camping more sustainable in high-use areas, while reducing user conflicts and protecting cultural and natural resources.”

    Additionally, the BLM is also considering requiring that all campers in these areas use a portable toilet system to pack out human waste (something already required by Grand County, Utah), a fire pan to prevent the proliferation of fire rings and associated trash and to make unintentional wildfires less likely, and prohibiting wood cutting and gathering.

    Recreation ecology tells us that the best management for recreation impacts is proactive management– especially when it seeks to accommodate likely continued increase in demand while also taking preventative steps to protect natural landscapes and resources. Although these new proposed management changes are certainly in response to a proliferation of negative impacts, we are heartened to see the BLM considering steps now to follow good ecological management practices.

    Below are some important points for the BLM to consider when analyzing what kind of management actions it should take in these high-impact dispersed camping locations around Moab. Please help us reinforce these points in your comments. The more you personalize and speak to your own experiences in any/all of the three areas and emphasize your appreciation of the wildlife, cultural resources, and wilderness values they contain, the better and more well-received your comments will be!

    Please encourage the BLM to move to a “designated dispersed” camping model in these three planning areas, and to select camping spots for designation only if their selection will not jeopardize wildlife habitat, breeding, and connectivity; cultural resources; and wilderness values like solitude, scenic values, and natural appearance and character. Public comments are due by June 23, 2022.

    Click here to submit your comments now

    Suggested points:

    • Dispersed camping on public lands near Moab is an important use for visitors and locals alike, but the unmanaged proliferation of disturbed sites in the past decade has resulted in degraded ecological and cultural resource conditions and user experiences.
      • Unmanaged dispersed camping and associated vehicle use can fragment habitat and result in loss of nesting, breeding, and rearing habitat for important local wildlife like raptors and desert bighorn sheep, and can directly eliminate populations of important native and endangered plants like Navajo sedge, San Rafael cactus, and Cisco milkvetch through trampling and surface-disturbance.
      • Cultural resources like ancestral habitation, ceremony, storage, and art sites have been gradually but consistently degraded as a result of campsite creation and expansion through vandalism, trampling, soil erosion, and illegal artifact collection.
      • Visitors seeking campsites often find human waste, trash, hacked trees, and trampled vegetation, while other recreationists are negatively affected by trash and impacts at trailheads, along heavily-used recreation trails, and at important scenic features.
    • By moving to a designated dispersed camping system, the BLM can best balance visitor use and enjoyment with protecting natural and cultural resources.
    • A sustainable dispersed camping system is one that is manageable, forward-thinking, and provides for a range of user needs and experiences.
    • The BLM should avoid designating sites that will impact lands proposed for wilderness under America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act and other BLM-identified wilderness-quality areas.
    • The BLM should require that visitors carry portable toilet systems and pack out all human waste, use fire pans at campsites, and refrain from wood cutting and gathering in and around dispersed sites.
    • The BLM should not establish dispersed sites within 0.5 miles of suitable nesting locations for raptors, including bald and golden eagles.
    • The BLM should not designate campsites in canyon bottoms or within 300 meters of canyon rims in the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges management area to protect sensitive habitat for desert bighorn sheep.
    • The BLM should designate dispersed campsites away from cultural resources and naturalize past visitor impacts and disturbance that, if left unchecked, could lead to future damage. The BLM should also consult directly with Native American Tribes regarding the potential designation of specific campsites.

    Thank you for participating in this important public process!

  • October 15th, 2021

    Want a say in how the Forest Service manages public lands and mountain ecosystems outside of Moab?

    The Manti-La Sal National Forest, which includes distinct forest units in the La Sal Mountains outside of Moab as well as the Abajo Mountains and a portion of Bears Ears National Monument in San Juan County, is revising its management plan for the first time in 35 years. Your input is vital to making sure this new plan includes smart, conservation-based management of these ecologically and culturally significant national forest lands.

    The Forest Service is accepting public comments through October 25, 2021. Click here to learn more and take action now.

    Abajo Mountains and the Manti-La Sal National Forest. Copyright Tim Peterson

    The Manti-La Sal is an incredibly diverse and spectacular region that includes aspen groves, mountain lakes, stands of giant ponderosa pine, and rocky crags perched high above Utah’s canyon country. It’s one of the few places where you can stand in a snowy forest of pine and spruce while looking out for hundreds of miles across valleys, canyons, and redrock desert fins.

    More importantly, the forest is a critical watershed of the Colorado Plateau, sustaining life in the surrounding redrock canyon county, including Bears Ears National Monument. As climate change and drought become our new reality in the West, protecting watersheds fed by mountain snowpack is more important than ever. The water, wilderness, native plants, and wildlife habitat of the Manti-La Sal need your help to survive and thrive!

    SUWA has been working with partners for many years on a comprehensive “Conservation Alternative” that we believe should be fully analyzed and considered in the Forest Service’s development of the new plan.

    Please tell the Manti-La Sal National Forest Supervisor to fully analyze the Conservation Alternative.

    Bears Ears National Monument / Manti-La Sal National Forest. Copyright Tim Peterson

    This comment period, known as “scoping,” is the first of many steps in a long process, but it is the time when the Forest Service is most open to new information, input, and ideas for management of a healthy forest over the next several decades. This is our chance to help shape the vision of how the Manti-La Sal National Forest should be managed for preservation of its incredible values for generations to come.

    Please speak up for the Manti-La Sal today and make your voice heard!

    You can also submit comments directly via this Forest Service comment portal or by emailing the Manti-La Sal Forest Supervisor at mlnfplanrevision@usda.gov

    Thank you!

  • May 26th, 2020

    As you know, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has been destroying native vegetation like sagebrush, pinyon pine, and juniper for decades. But in recent years, your voice and input has played a critical role in stopping or delaying many of the worst large-scale mechanical vegetation removal proposals on our public lands.

    In response, the BLM is now proposing to cut out a majority of both public oversight and scientific review of its vegetation removal activities across the West.

    Please keep the pressure up by submitting comments on the BLM’s latest attack on public lands and the public process.

    A pinyon-juniper forest chaining project on public lands in Utah.

    The agency just released a draft “Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement for Fuels Reduction and Rangeland Restoration in the Great Basin” (PEIS), which, in its current form, would serve as the only legally required review before the BLM can move ahead with a range of vegetation removal projects across 223 million acres, spanning six states, including Utah.

    Once this “programmatic” document is finalized, the BLM would be able to plan and execute massive vegetation removals anywhere within the 223 million-acre analysis area with little more than a checklist before pulling the trigger, and without any public review or input.

    Tell the BLM not to cut public input from its public land clearcutting plans. Click here to submit your comments by June 2nd!

    If this feels familiar, it is. Just one month ago, the BLM was busy making plans for a new “categorical exclusion” that would exempt pinyon pine and juniper clearcutting projects as large as 10,000 acres from environmental analysis and public accountability. Now the BLM is doubling down in its efforts to cut the public from its land-clearing decisions.

    The BLM’s PEIS for “Fuels Reduction and Rangeland Restoration in the Great Basin” is particularly inappropriate for several reasons:

    • Despite calling for removals in the “Great Basin,” the PEIS inexplicably encompasses nearly all of Utah, including most of the Colorado Plateau, a drastically different ecosystem. It even covers potential removals on more than 1.4 million acres proposed for wilderness in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act.
    • The BLM sets no desired conditions for what the areas should look like after projects are completed. In other words, there will be no actual criteria for the agency or the public to measure “progress” or “success.”
    • The PEIS does not discuss specific projects, including where they will occur, which actions they entail, or what site-specific resources may be affected, putting all cultural and historic resources, wilderness-quality lands, and rare (including federally-listed threatened and endangered) plant and animal species that can be found within the hundreds of millions of acres in the crosshairs.
    • The BLM does not discuss the efficacy (or lack thereof) of various treatment methods (including chaining, mastication, chain harrowing, herbicide, and prescribed fire) or disclose results of past removals using these heavy-handed tools, essentially providing no evidence that any of the methods proposed will actually work, when the best available science actually demonstrates otherwise.
    • The PEIS calls for the use of targeted grazing as a treatment method throughout the analysis area. This method is not only scientifically unproven, it will likely contribute to continued degradation and loss of sagebrush habitat.
    • There are no plans for long-term monitoring or maintenance of the treated landscapes to ensure that the removals are successful and are not causing significant, long-term damage by destroying biological soil crust or further spreading invasive species like cheatgrass.

    Click here to submit your comments to the BLM by June 2nd!

    Comments may also be emailed directly to BLM_PEIS_Questions@blm.gov.

    This is the second time in just over a month that the BLM has tried to cut the public out of decisions to chain, masticate, and clearcut our public lands.

    Your input has made a difference before—so please take action again today. Thank you!

  • November 19th, 2018

    Even as it solicits public comments on how to (mis)manage the illegally-reduced Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is moving forward with two terrible “vegetation management” proposals within the original boundaries of Grand Staircase.

    These two proposals would strip sagebrush and pinyon-juniper forests from more than 110,000 acres of Grand Staircase-Escalante. All told, the BLM is looking at “landscape-level project[s]” on more than 560,000 acres of your public lands.

    Can you take a moment to defend Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by telling the BLM to shelve its vegetation mis-management plans? Click here to tell the BLM what you think.

    Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    In the Paria River watershed, the BLM is considering letting loose the chainsaws and mechanical masticators on up to 93,000 acres of public lands within a 565,000 acre area. Still in the initial scoping phase of planning, comments on the Paria River Project are due on Monday, November 26th.

    In the Skutumpah Terrace area northeast of Kanab, the BLM has completed an Environmental Assessment of a “treatment” proposal to remove pinyon and juniper from more than 22,000 acres of public land. The BLM is requesting public input on this plan by Monday, December 3rd.

    Click here to submit your comments on both plans. Tell the BLM to stop vegetation removal in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

    Large-scale vegetation removal projects are an extreme and unproven management approach that simply do not belong on our public lands, and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument should certainly never be the subject of the most aggressive and invasive treatments like chaining, mastication, and mulching.

    Please take a moment to join us in defending Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument from bad management decisions by submitting your comments today.

    Thank you for taking action.