• June 13th, 2022

    Q: What’s the difference between “open dispersed” and “designated dispersed” camping? What are the benefits of moving to a designated dispersed system in southern Utah?

    The difference between “open dispersed” camping (also known as “undeveloped” or “primitive” camping) and “designated dispersed” is site designation. This means when you’re out on public lands looking for a primitive campsite, you will need to find a pre-designated and already-disturbed spot with a marker placed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) indicating that it is a dispersed camping spot.

    According to the draft environmental assessment (EA) from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for one of the proposed camping management areas, there are several benefits to providing designated dispersed camping in crowded places like southern Utah, as opposed to a completely open model:

    • “Limiting dispersed camping to designated campsites would allow the BLM to place campsites in locations that would not cause deleterious impacts to other recreationists who are attempting to enjoy their public lands. Designated campsites would not be placed within view of popular biking, hiking or 4×4 routes and would be placed far enough apart so that visitors do not feel crowded. All designated campsites would be placed on designated roads, leading to a lessening of cross-country motorized travel.”
    • “Designating campsites and requiring fire pans would lessen the proliferation of rock fire rings and accumulation of ash in designated campsites. Should clean-up be required, designated campsites would allow recreation staff to know where to find the detritus left by irresponsible campers.”
    • “The requirement to carry out all solid human waste would lead to a cleaner environment and more enjoyable camping experience to recreationists. The supplementary rules disallowing the cutting of trees would help in providing campers with shade and privacy and enhance the camping experience. The Proposed Action would be beneficial to recreational experience for those visitors looking for clean, inviting, and sustainable camping opportunities. Those visitors who wish to camp where they choose without the regulation of designated campsites would be inconvenienced by the Proposed Action.”

    Q: Will this change mean that camping is harder to find or access? What if my favorite dispersed camping spot isn’t “designated”?

    The good news for recreationists is that, through a designated dispersed management strategy, there will be many, many popular sites designated throughout the areas. Because the intent of this approach is to make it more obvious as to what sites exist for dispersed camping, sites that have been consistently used in the past are far more likely to be designated because they are already obvious as disturbed areas. In short: current popular sites will likely be included.

    Additionally, when it comes to access of sites, this management strategy will likely result in an easier time getting to sites and finding them because sites will be easily visible, dispersed logically over accessible areas, and located near vehicle access points.

    However, a dispersed site may not be designated in this management process if it has adverse impacts on wildlife, cultural resources, or other important ecosystem or visitor considerations.

    Q: So does this mean that I’ll have to camp around a bunch of other people, or won’t be able to find solitude like I can now?

    No. Done properly, a designated dispersed system should improve your camping experience. Proper site planning can ensure that public land users have a quality experience when camping, including quiet soundscapes, dark skies, and scenic views.


    Q: Will there be a financial cost to go dispersed camping where it used to be free? How do land management agencies balance the need for ecological, wildlife, and cultural resource protection with equitable access for recreationists– especially those on the lower end of the socioeconomic bracket?

    Dispersed camping will still be free and will not require a permit or reservation in the areas currently proposed for a “designated dispersed” system.

    By directing recreationists, including campers, hikers, and other public user groups to designated and planned-for campsites (including primitive, free sites), trails, and recreation locations closer to the “frontcountry,” land management agencies are best able to balance human experiences and impacts with other considerations of natural ecosystems. For example, wildlife do best when important habitat  for migration, breeding, and other life events is largely free of human disturbance.

    Cultural sites also benefit from careful management and education. This includes leaving them unpromoted since high visitation can damage sensitive structures and artifacts, and Tribes with ancestral connections to these sites seek their continued protection.

    Proactively managing for public land use in locations that are the most accessible to all visitors regardless of financial ability also brings equity into public lands recreation by allowing land managers to accommodate new user groups and ensure that all members of the public can make connections with public lands.

    Concentrating use in appropriate and accessible areas allows land management agencies to minimize development and protect less-impacted backcountry ecosystems. Recreation ecology shows that the majority of impacts to wildlife, cultural sites, soils, and vegetation occur as a result of *initial* use, while additional use at previously-hardened and impacted sites, even at high levels, results in minimal additional impacts.

    Q: In places like Grand County, dispersed camping has become an informal method of housing seasonal employees who support the tourism industry in Moab. How will this change in land management methodology impact those folks, and others who use dispersed camping to live in southern Utah?

    As residents of rural southern Utah ourselves, we are aware of how important it is to our communities for residents to be able to dispersed-camp on public lands, especially during the extreme housing crisis that towns across the West are currently experiencing. Changes like those proposed by the Moab BLM are unlikely to negatively impact these community members for two reasons:

    • First, the areas currently proposed for “designated dispersed” camping management by the BLM are far enough away from town centers that they aren’t places that many local workers are likely to call home for the night. In Moab, for example, most dispersed camping by local workers occurs within a 20-minute drive of town, closer to the main highway thoroughfare on federal and state land parcels that are easy to access. None of these more-accessible locations are within the BLM’s proposed area of new camping management.
    • Second, even if locals seek out dispersed camping sites for housing that are within the areas proposed for new management, they will still have access to completely free, no-reservation places to camp. The only change is that they, like all other members of the public, will need to select a site that has been marked and indicated by the BLM for this purpose.
  • October 20th, 2021

    Human-powered recreation is exploding on public lands throughout the west, with Southern Utah as the poster child for unsustainable growth and associated impacts to resources and user experiences. These problems are compounded by under-staffed and under-resourced federal land management agencies like the Bureau of Land Management.

    Join Professor of Recreation Resources Management Dr. Christopher Monz and SUWA Wildlands Director Neal Clark to learn about the impacts of human-powered recreation in Southern Utah, and how implementing more proactive land management strategies from the Bureau of Land Management will protect public lands, wildlife and wild places– all while providing a spectrum of high-quality, meaningful experiences for a diverse recreating public.


    About Dr. Christopher Monz:

    Dr. Christopher Monz, Professor of Recreation Resources Management in the Department of Environment and Society at Utah State University, currently focuses his professional study in recreation ecology. He’s conducted over 30 years of research on national parks and other protected areas worldwide, and is the primary author of this new report, prepared for SUWA, titled Outdoor Recreation and Ecological Disturbance.



    Full Report: Outdoor Recreation and Ecological Disturbance, A Review of Research and Implications for Management of the Colorado Plateau Province by Dr. Christopher Monz

    Sign the petition: ask the Utah Bureau of Land Management to create a working group for non-motorized recreation and visitation

    SUWA: Recreation Management on the Colorado Plateau

    SUWA Recreation Letter to BLM


    Thank you to our show supporters!

    Wild Utah is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Thank you for your support!

    Become a SUWA member today and support the Wild Utah Podcast


    Subscribe to Wild Utah on your favorite podcast app!

    Theme music is by Haley Noel Austin, with interlude music by Larry Pattis.
    Dave Pacheco is the host of Wild Utah.
    Post studio production and editing is by Laura Borichevsky.
    A transcript of this episode can be found here.

  • September 21st, 2021


    Contact: Neal Clark, Wildlands Director, 435-259-7090,
    Judi Brawer, Wildlands Attorney, 435-355-0716,

    Moab, UT (September 21, 2021) – More than a dozen conservation organizations based in Utah and the surrounding region sent a letter today to the Bureau of Land Management (“the Bureau”), asking the agency to create a new working group to develop proactive management practices to address the rapid growth of non-motorized recreation and visitation on federal public lands in Utah.

    The letter follows a new report by Utah State University professor and recreation ecologist Dr. Christopher Monz, Outdoor Recreation and Ecological Disturbance, A Review of Research and Implications for Management of the Colorado Plateau Province. The report synthesizes more than 60 years of published scientific research to identify the lasting environmental impacts of rapidly expanding non-motorized recreation such as hiking, mountain biking, backpacking, camping, hunting, and horseback riding on the Colorado Plateau.

    The report highlights the need for a proactive approach to planning for recreation growth on the Colorado Plateau, as opposed to the Bureau’s current reactive strategy that leads to the proliferation of damaged areas. “Activity types and behaviors that result in expanding recreation use from concentrated, high-use areas to new, less visited and undisturbed locations are perhaps the most serious consideration [for public land managers],” writes Dr. Monz. “Future management of public lands will have to be proactive in order to accommodate a likely continued increase in demand while also protecting the natural landscapes visitors seek.”

    The letter to the Bureau calling for the formation of a new recreation working group was signed by Colorado Wildlands Project, Conserve Southwest Utah, Grand Canyon Trust, Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, Latino Outdoors Salt Lake City, Living Rivers/Colorado Riverkeeper, Mormons for Environmental Stewardship, Utah Rock Art Research Association, Utah Chapter Sierra Club, Wasatch Mountain Club, Western Wildlife Conservancy, Wilderness Workshop, Wildlands Network, and Yellowstone to Uintas Connection.

    “The exploding growth of non-motorized recreation and visitation to Utah’s public lands is apparent to anyone who spends time outdoors. Urgent action is needed to ensure that public lands recreation is sustainable over the long-term for wildlife, wilderness, cultural and natural resources, and quality visitor experiences,” said Neal Clark, Wildlands Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), which commissioned the report. “The Utah Bureau of Land Management is in dire need of a new vision for non-motorized recreation and visitation management. To that end, we are calling on the Bureau to establish a working group of experts to help develop science-based management strategies that proactively address this growing problem. Individual recreationists and conservation organizations cannot solve this problem alone; we need leadership from land managers to address this clearly unsustainable situation on our public lands.”

    “The BLM’s current strategy is one of pushing recreation use further and further into remote, backcountry areas. But the science is clear: to address the impacts of climate change and the biodiversity crisis, these areas must be protected as safe havens for wildlife and intact ecosystems, and the BLM must manage recreation accordingly,” said Jason Christensen, Director of Yellowstone to Uintas Connection.

    “Wildlife face a growing number of threats, from the impacts of drought to expanding human communities,” said Michael Dax, Western Program Director for Wildlands Network. “It’s important that people are able to reconnect with the natural world through recreation, but we must do so in a way that protects the resources, such as wildlife, that we want to enjoy. Proactively managing non-motorized recreation to concentrate and minimize its impacts to wildlife will help ensure that wildlife populations continue to thrive in the future.”

    Based on the findings from the new scientific report, the letter from conservation organizations calls on the Bureau to establish a non-motorized recreation and visitation working group to address the significant ecological challenges facing public lands in Utah as a result of increased use. The working group should include representatives from Native American tribes, historically underrepresented community organizations, quiet recreation organizations, wilderness and public land conservation organizations, and scientific and academic experts in the fields of recreation management, biology, wildlife, soils, and cultural resources.

    Additional Resources:

    Full Report: Outdoor Recreation and Ecological Disturbance, A Review of Research and Implications for Management of the Colorado Plateau Province by Dr. Christopher Monz

    SUWA Recreation Letter to BLM

    SUWA: Recreation Management on the Colorado Plateau

    Sign the petition: ask the Utah Bureau of Land Management to create a working group for non-motorized recreation and visitation