FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
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.