Mayhem: A state of rowdy disorder

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.