Although the Utah BLM can’t seem to say no to a bad idea, it is getting better at bullet-proofing (read: appeal-proofing) its environmental analyses in order to squeak by the legal requirements imposed by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Prime examples include the BLM’s recent decisions to: 1) allow Garfield County to pave a portion of the Notom Road; and 2) allow very large groups to camp along the Hole in the Rock Road in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. In both cases, after reviewing public comments, the BLM tweaked its environmental analyses so they would minimally comply with the law. But they still stink.
BLM’s short-sighted Notom Road decision appeased county officials who go all quivery at the thought of paved roads. The paving decision thus placates the county officials but at the expense of the growing number of visitors who are trying to get away from the crowds, who cherish the experience of getting there via a lonely dirt road bordered by scenic wildlands to explore and experience quiet and solitude.
Similarly, the BLM caved to local pressure with its decision to permit large-group use along the Hole in the Rock road. Some Mormon church groups want large-group experiences when visiting the area that Mormon pioneers traveled on their journey from Escalante to the Colorado River. It is unlikely that most monument visitors will feel the same. They come to experience what the presidential proclamation called this “rugged and remote region…[an] unspoiled natural area that remains a frontier.” For them, encountering 145 people at Dance Hall Rock and huge tent cities strewn along the Hole in the Rock road will be a rude awakening.
Caving in to local pressures and papering over bad decisions to make them pass legal muster is not unique to the Utah BLM. But the agency here has mastered the game. All in all, it is a poor way to manage some of the most scenic, wild and remote lands in the nation.