The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is developing new plans to better manage dispersed camping in three high-use areas near Moab, Utah.

The agency’s goal is to better protect resources and improve visitor experiences in the 120,000-acre Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA), the 9,000-acre Two Rivers SRMA, and the 17,000-acre Utah Rims SRMA.

Rapid growth of human-powered recreation across Utah’s public lands—in the Moab region, especially—over the past decade has damaged everything from wilderness values, wildlife, and visitor experiences, to natural and cultural resources. The Moab area hosts more than three million visitors annually. Many camp on BLM-managed public lands and the damage is proportionate. Accordingly, the BLM is revisiting its rules regarding dispersed camping in these three highly popular areas near Moab.

The rapid growth of human-powered recreation in the Moab area is harming the local ecology as well as the very experiences people go there to find. Copyright SUWA/TWIG Media Lab

The Goal is Sustainability
Most BLM-managed public lands are now open to “dispersed camping.” That means visitors may camp in areas without dedicated campgrounds and associated facilities. Chief among the BLM’s new management options is a proposal to move the three heavily used areas from an open dispersed category to a “designated dispersed” category. Boiled down, that means free camping, with no amenities such as toilets, will still be available. But instead of camping anywhere, visitors would be required to occupy a clearly identified site.

This, the BLM hopes, will “make dispersed camping more sustainable in high-use areas while reducing user conflicts and protecting cultural and natural resources.” The agency is considering requiring all campers in these areas to use a portable toilet system to pack out human waste (already a Grand County, Utah requirement) and to use a fire pan. Wood gathering and cutting would be prohibited.

Recreation ecology tells us that land managers must actively manage recreation on public lands—especially as they work to ensure balance between quality visitor experiences and protection of natural resources. We are heartened to see the BLM considering these sound practices. We’ll keep you apprised of public comment opportunities as the proposal progresses.

—Neal Clark

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, Summer 2022 issue)