Liz Thomas, Author at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

  • September 17th, 2014

    Corona Arch. Copyright Tom Till.

    In order to preserve the unforgettable experience provided to visitors at Corona Arch and Gemini Bridges, BLM is proposing a temporary restriction on “roped activities” in these areas.  The recent adrenaline-driven fad of rope swinging, rappelling, slacklining, and highlining is negatively affecting the experience sought by the majority of visitors – families, hikers, sightseers and photographers – to these two very popular destinations near Moab.

    Please let the BLM know you support the proposed restrictions on these activities.

    Both Corona Arch and Gemini Bridges are impressive and unforgettable geologic formations, each located in a spectacularly scenic setting.  According to the BLM, these two geological features are the most popular such features on public lands near Moab.  An estimated 40,000 people hike to Corona Arch and 50,000 people hike to Gemini Bridges each year to savor the view and enjoy the quiet reverence of the areas “as they grasp the enormity of the views.”    As a recent New York Times article put it, the antics of a few have turned “Moab’s unique collection of ancient stone arches into death-defying swing sets . . . filling a once-solitary canyon with whooping screams and long lines of adventurers.”

    In an effort to protect the integrity of the arches and to continue to provide a quality experience to the majority of the visitors, BLM is proposing to restrict roped activities in the Corona Arch and Gemini Bridges areas.  There are many other locations on public lands in the Moab area that are available for roped activities, and the proposed temporary restrictions are in keeping with BLM’s current management plan, which directs the agency to enhance hiking opportunities at the Corona Arch and Gemini Bridges areas.

    Please send a short letter to the Moab BLM Manager, Beth Ransel, supporting BLM’s proposed restrictions on roped activities in the Corona Arch and Gemini Bridges areas.

  • July 8th, 2014
    Anti-federal protesters join San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman on an illegal ride through Recapture Canyon on May 10, 2014.

    Anti-federal protesters join San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman on an illegal ride through Recapture Canyon on May 10, 2014.

    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and our partners at The Wilderness Society, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust and Great Old Broads for Wilderness delivered a letter to Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Director Neil Kornze requesting that his agency continue to protect the irreplaceable prehistoric cultural resources in Recapture Canyon. We urged the director not to abdicate his agency’s responsibility to comply with the BLM’s federal travel planning regulations by giving a right-of-way to San Juan County for the illegally constructed ORV trail through the canyon. We also called upon the director to ensure that, once the agency completes its investigation, it will take all appropriate steps to fully prosecute the individuals who violated the agency’s ORV closure in the canyon on May 10th during Commissioner Lyman’s illegal ORV event.

    We recognize the challenges facing the BLM in managing our public lands and preserving our cultural heritage, especially in response to recent acts of opposition to the agency’s authority.  However, failing to enforce federal laws that were enacted to protect priceless archaeological treasures merely opens the door for further vandalism and other illegal acts.

  • May 29th, 2014

    On May 10, San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman led dozens of anti-federal government protesters driving off-road vehicles (ORVs) past the BLM’s signs prohibiting ORV use into Recapture Canyon. Although there are approximately 4,000 miles of designated routes open to ORV use on public lands in San Juan County (2,820 miles managed by the Monticello BLM and another 1,000 miles managed by the Moab BLM), Commissioner Lyman said he was leading the illegal ORV ride to protest the “jurisdictional creep” of the federal government and the notion that the BLM “arbitrarily shut down a road in San Juan County.”

    Far from an arbitrary action, BLM’s 2007 closure of the Recapture trail to motorized vehicles was based on evidence that the illegally constructed ORV trail and subsequent ORV use was causing adverse effects to the prehistoric cultural resources in and near the trail. Please tell the BLM it should maintain the existing closure to protect these resources rather than giving a right-of-way for the illegal trail to San Juan County.

    The illegal event in Recapture Canyon is but another result of the misguided “take back federal lands” rhetoric spewed by a small cadre of western elected officials. Commissioner Lyman’s “childish snit fit,” which showed complete disregard for irreplaceable prehistoric cultural resources, is a perfect example of why state and local officials should not be entrusted with our public lands legacy.

    Commission Lyman’s statements to the media that “[i]t feels great” after riding into the closed area illustrate a complete disrespect for both federal law and the Native Americans who continue to honor the cultural values of the canyon today. The commissioner’s actions in defiance of the BLM’s ORV Closure Order and in violation of laws enacted to protect our cultural heritage must not go unpunished.

    Most importantly, the BLM must continue to protect the archaeological resources of Recapture Canyon and not cave to political pressure to give San Juan County a right-of-way for the illegally constructed route. Click here to send a letter to BLM Director Neil Kornze asking him to deny the county’s right-of-way request for the illegal ORV trails in Recapture Canyon.

  • January 26th, 2011

    Ancient structural site2 Recapture Canyon’s cool, flowing stream provides year-round water, lush vegetation, and a haven for wildlife.  This idyllic setting was likely the reason that nearly 2000 years ago, Ancestral Puebloans begin inhabiting Recapture Canyon.  These agrarian communities thrived in Recapture for more than 1000 years.  Remarkable remnants of their culture, such as the ancient structural site at left, have been preserved through the years along the stream banks and benches in this quiet canyon in southeastern Utah.  The silence was broken in 2005, when a 20-mile illegal off-road vehicle (ORV) trail was constructed in Recapture, damaging several of these ancient sites, and increasing the potential for future damages.

    Last week, a Federal Magistrate levied fines, totaling $35,000 on two Blanding men who were charged with damaging federal property when they illegally constructed the ORV trail.  After conducting the investigation, filing charges and ultimately prevailing in the criminal case, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will surely keep the illegal trail closed to ORV use, right?  Well . . . not if San Juan County, UT gets its way.

    Pot shards After the illegal trail was built, San Juan County requested that the BLM essentially legitimize the illegally constructed trail and grant a right-of-way to the county for the ATV trail.  To its credit, and before issuing a right-of-way to the county, the BLM had a cultural resource survey conducted along the illegal trail.  The survey reported that the illegal trail crosses directly through numerous ancient cultural sites (see pot shards found on the ATV trail at right).  ATVs using this trail would run over archaeological sites that are considered eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

    After the illicit construction, the BLM eventually closed the illegal trail to motor vehicle use to protect the archaeological sites from further damage and vandalism.  The Hopi Tribe has requested that the BLM make the closure permanent due to the sensitive nature of the cultural resources in the canyon.

    The BLM should stay the course and protect the natural and cultural resources in Recapture Canyon.  Giving in to San Juan County’s pressure for a right-of-way for the illegal trail would be a contradiction of the BLM’s legal duties, and would send a conflicting message:  On the one hand, the BLM will seek criminal penalties and fines for persons who illegally construct trails on public lands, while on the other hand, the agency will reward the illegal action by giving the illegal trail to the county for ORV use.

    There is no shortage of ORV trails in San Juan County — ORV enthusiasts can enjoy over 5,000 miles (!) of ORV routes and trails on BLM lands, with even more trails on U.S. Forest Service lands.  Thus, the BLM should do the right thing and maintain the existing closure order to protect the irreplaceable cultural artifacts in Recapture Canyon.