I’m sitting in the San Juan County Administration building, in
This is the fourth of eight “informational” meetings scheduled by Utah Senator
Robert Bennett as part of his “San Juan County Public Lands Process”. After
yesterday’s comments, it seems to me that this will all come down to “access”,
the buzz word for motor vehicle routes. Commissioner Bruce Adams said yesterday that
access is his highest priority. I’m sure he was referring to having access to
gravel pits and oil and gas reserves, but there is a deep-seated sentiment in
San Juan County that people ought to be able to drive their ORV freely on
public lands. And I can only imagine the pressure Bruce gets from his
constituents. Yesterday Liz Thomas (SUWA Field Attorney) focused her
presentation on routes in conflict with our wilderness proposal. She showed a
map with SUWA’s proposed wilderness units, the BLM’s Wilderness Study Areas and wilderness character
areas, and the newly designated ORV routes including those in conflict with our
proposal. She had examples of the field work we’ve done, showing routes on a
map and actual photos we’ve taken of some of the “routes”. It’s difficult to
argue with the photos which show that in many cases these “routes” are nearly
impossible to see, or are merely tire tracks across the sand. Afterwards, there was a lot of dialogue
around how many miles of roads are out there and how many miles of routes are
in conflict with our wilderness proposal.
After talking to a number of people sympathetic to the designation of
more wilderness, not less, it’s clear we should make copies of our map
available to everyone involved. Ideally, we can focus on particular routes by
asking two questions:
Is the route in an area that would otherwise qualify as
wilderness? If it is, then
Is there a compelling purpose for the route?
answer is “no” then the route should be closed.
Maybe it’s possible to look at the issue of motorized access through the
lens of ‘means’ and ‘ends’. In other words, is a route a means—does it provide
actual access to something
Or is a particular route an “end” in itself—is it there because ORV users
wanted a new place to drive or ride?
Case in point: Three people from Wilderness Quest, a company providing
outdoor therapy, just made their presentation. They’re concerned that
Wilderness designation will jeopardize their ability to take care of their
clients. (Wayne Hoskisson asked the obvious question about why they named their
company after something they feel has negative impacts on them.) They mentioned
their need for repeater towers so their radios will work, but their main focus
was on routes they need for resupplying
provisions for their programs and dealing with emergencies. Kevin Mueller from Utah Environmental
Congress brought it to our attention that making general statements usually
generates negative response—that we need to sit down with maps and look at
specific examples of routes they need and use. What are the actual conflicts?
Today, we’re hearing from our great partners working on National Forest
Issues. The Grand Canyon Trust, Utah Environmental Congress, and
countless hours over the years, and more recently during the past few months, crafting
a very strong forest wilderness proposal from a number of various proposals.
Tim Peterson from the Grand
Canyon Trust just reiterated something we all acknowledge: Those of us
advocating for wilderness are not opposed to roads—we need them to get to the
wild places that have a major influence on our lives. But there has to be a balance.
More to follow.
SUWA Field Advocate