Opportunity or peril? San Juan County wilderness

It’s an exciting time for Utah wilderness advocates. Wilderness legislation for San Juan County – the heart of some of the most spectacular redrock wilderness – is still in the works. This, despite U.S. Senator Bob Bennett’s (R-UT) loss at the recent Utah Republican convention.

White Canyon Narrows
White Canyon Narrows photo copyright James Kay.

And so we face both opportunity and peril.  The opportunity exists for good legislation that reverses the terrible Bush administration decisions to fragment this landscape with off-road vehicle (ORV) routes. The peril is of course that the legislation developed could instead ratify the Bush plans. It’s our job to see that it doesn’t.

Examples of lands threatened by the Bush ORV travel plans include Mancos Mesa and the greater White Canyon area, both in the Utah Wilderness Coalition’s proposed Glen Canyon Wilderness, one of the biggest tracts of wild land remaining in southeastern Utah.

Mancos Mesa is dissected by the 600-foot sheer Wingate Sandstone walls of Moqui Canyon — a deep canyon, magnificent and remote, that offers a cool stream with cottonwoods and willows.  Unfortunately, the Bush plans designated the Moqui Canyon creek bed as well as several dead-end jeep tracks on the mesa top, as official ORV routes.

The White Canyon proposed wilderness, north of Natural Bridges National Monument, includes 1,000-foot redrock cliffs and well over 100 miles of winding canyons carved into the Cedar Mesa Sandstone, with alcoves, hanging gardens, arches and grottoes. Yet here, too, the Bush plans designated several unnecessary ORV routes, cutting this remarkable wilderness into pieces.

We face some uncertainty as Senator Bennett has yet to announce the next steps in this process. But we’re excited to work with his office and other interested parties to seize this opportunity. We’ll keep you informed and let you know how you can help as this effort unfolds over the coming months. Sign up here to receive regular updates and learn how you can get involved in protecting Utah’s San Juan-Canyonlands wilderness.