The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has agreed with SUWA that it failed to comply with federal law when it issued a permit for an all terrain vehicle (ATV) “safari,” a three-day affair in which as many as 400 ATVs travel over 500 miles of routes on public land in southeastern Utah’s San Juan County, including many routes in the Greater Canyonlands area.
The National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) requires federal agencies to identify and protect historic and prehistoric artifacts. However, the BLM did not even conduct cultural surveys before issuing the safari permit. Worse, it didn’t even bother to review existing cultural inventories, conducted over the years for various energy and other developments, that could have shed light on cultural sites that the ATV safari might endanger.
SUWA appealed that decision. In the course of the appeal, the agency agreed that it had failed to comply with the NHPA and pledged to conduct appropriate cultural resource reviews and environmental analyses before issuing any new safari permits.
Sadly, the BLM’s behavior in this instance is not an isolated example but part of a pattern of neglect of Utah’s rich archaeological resources. The extraordinary density of archaeological sites in southeastern Utah, many eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places, makes this region among the most significant anywhere. Yet, BLM archaeologists and others agree that they’ve surveyed less than 10 percent of these public lands to identify and record their cultural resources.
The BLM’s pledge to follow the law in the future is welcome and SUWA will be watching to make sure it does.