Off Road Vehicles - Page 13 of 13

  • September 3rd, 2010

    From the dictionary:

    may·hem [mey-hem] –noun A state of rowdy disorder

    Last week SUWA Attorney Liz Thomas announced plans for our ORV Mayhem contest. The purpose is to make our supporters aware of the type of Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) use taking place, legally, on Utah’s public lands by submitting the best (actually worst) ORV Mayhem videos they can find online or in their own video stash showing the crazy antics and associated resource damage that the Utah Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is allowing ORVs to inflict on our public lands.  Since then, I’ve had the chance to think about the idea of “rowdy disorder” in a larger context.

    Yes, mayhem is one word to describe the experience of watching a group of ATV’s churning in a long, noisy, dust-encrusted line through the middle of what might otherwise be a nearly infinite wild area.  The continual revving and squealing of highly-modified jeeps being forced up sandstone walls far steeper than their designers intended is mayhem, as is the full-panicked scattering of frightened wildlife—fish/deer/birds—in advance of hissing, steaming vehicles as they crash through a once pristine desert creek environment.

    “Rowdy disorder” is also an accurate term to describe the political influence of the ORV community.  Why, for example, when only 7% of visitors to BLM lands in the Moab area responding to a survey said that their main activity was ORV use, are 81% of the lands overseen by the Moab BLM Office open to them?

    Or right now in San Juan County, over 80% of the public lands are within 1 mile of an ORV route and less than 10% of these far-flung lands are farther than 2 miles from a motor vehicle route.

    Our question is:  why is this not enough?  Why has San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams stated that his county favors opening even more areas to ORVs by creating a system of access roads?  Why does Utah BLM allow ORV use on about 90% of our public lands, to the detriment of other users and the natural resources?

    The answer: the generally inexplicable influence a few noisy ORV enthusiasts have on local county officials, who in turn influence Utah BLM officials, who in turn influence the agency’s ORV decisions on up the ladder.  It’s not rational, we know.

    The ORV community would have the world believe that the “left-wing environmental mafia” (SUWA) would like to build a fence around a 9.4 million acre blob of wilderness in the middle of southern Utah, excluding anyone but the most fit and serious backpackers.  This is simply not true.  America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act consists of dozens of different wilderness areas bounded by literally thousands of miles of legitimate routes currently being used by ORV enthusiasts, but also mountain bikers, hikers accessing the backcountry, or families in minivans.  Passage of the Red Rock bill would mean closing a very small percentage of ORV trails (about 15% in southern and eastern Utah).  Many of these are trails that don’t actually go anywhere, or there is no compelling reason for their existence; many duplicate another route.  (In San Juan County, for example, if all the wilderness in the Red Rock bill were designated, it would close 900 out of 5,000 miles of trails (less than 18%) — many of which traverse culturally-sensitive areas and streambeds, or are little used and all but impossible to find on the ground.)

    ”ORV Mayhem” – the sometimes extreme rhetoric and politics of the ORV community – perpetuates unnecessary damage to our last remaining wild lands.  The time to end the mayhem is now.

  • August 30th, 2010

    Last week, I left my home in Moab and traveled to Salt Lake City just in time to hit a “Red Alert” day — meaning the air quality was so poor that breathing could damage your lungs (yes, my driving contributed to the problem).

    Somehow that made it all the more disappointing when two days later Governor Herbert spoke at the “Take Utah Backwards” (a.k.a. “Take Back Utah”) off-road vehicle rally at the state capitol. A crowd of pollution-belching ATVs and non-street-legal vehicles first joyrode up State Street, and then the governor shared the stage with elected officials and other sundry notables (like a representative of the Farm Bureau) competing for best at bashing environmentalists.

    Why would our Governor promote more off-road vehicle use on our public lands? In the southeastern portion of our state, on
    just BLM land alone, there are 20,000 miles of dirt routes for motorized use. He wants more?

    Herbert shared the stage with Representative Mike Noel, whom the governor previously appointed to his so-called “Balanced Resource Council” — the committee intended to foster civility in public land discussions. When Noel recently learned that SUWA had resolved conflicts with an energy company over natural gas and wilderness at the north end of Desolation
    Canyon, he declared that SUWA was an “enemy of the state and the people and the children of Utah” (I hope my wife
    and kids don’t feel that way). You might have expected the governor to boot Noel from the BRC for that one. Instead, the governor’s staff sent a written defense of Noel to the Salt Lake Tribune, and on Saturday, the governor gave a shout-out
    to his “good friend, Representative Mike Noel.”

    If there is a silver lining to all this, it’s that only a few hundred attended Herbert’s speech, not the 10,000 predicted by promoters. These folks are losing momentum fast.

    Take back utah attendees
    Does this look like 5,000 attendees to you?  That is what the Take Back Utah organizers have “estimated.”
    Photo by Scott Braden.

    Off-road vehicle use is probably the greatest threat to Utah’s spectacular wilderness. We need political leadership, not pandering, if we’re going to resolve the Utah wilderness debate and protect the Redrock.

    Scott Groene
    Executive Director
    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

  • August 9th, 2010

    Recapture Creek is in a spectacular canyon with an astounding prehistory, as evidenced by the number and quality of its cultural resources.  In 2006, unknown individuals illegally constructed an off-road vehicle (ORV) route through Recapture. The illegal route was built directly through archaeological sites and crosses the creek several times.  The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) eventually issued a temporary closure for the illegal route in 2007, and has started a criminal investigation that is still ongoing.

    Subsequent to BLM’s closure, San Juan County requested a right-of-way (ROW) for the illegal ORV route. Even though the BLM is still conducting its criminal investigation, the agency began processing the County’s ROW application. Due to the area’s archeological significance, and in order to comply with the National Historic Preservation Act, BLM has begun a consultation process with interested parties. SUWA is an interested party because we petitioned the BLM to close the route, and we are participating in the consultation process, along with the State Historic Preservation Office, professional
    archaeologists, other environmental and cultural resource protection organizations, the Ute Tribe, a local ORV advocacy group, the cities of Blanding and Monticello, and San Juan County. In addition, the Hopi Tribe has submitted letters to the BLM requesting the permanent closure of the unauthorized route in Recapture Canyon to motorized vehicles due to the cultural resources issues.

    There is sound basis for closing the route to motorized vehicle use to protect the cultural resources, as current research indicates that there is a direct correlation between the vandalizing and looting of cultural resources and access by ORVs. Sites visible from ORV routes are much more likely to be vandalized.

    Besides the NHPA process which the field trip in this video was part of, BLM has indicated that it will conduct an environmental review and publish an Environmental Assessment for public review and comment before determining whether the agency will grant a ROW for the illegal route to San Juan County.

    Video by Brooke Williams, SUWA Field Advocate