Protect Arch Canyon from ORVs

Please tell the Utah BLM State Director that Arch Canyon is a gem that must be preserved — not managed as a playground for ATVs and dirt bikes.

Arch Canyon screensaver image
Arch Canyon, photo by Liz Thomas

The Bureau of Land Management recently denied SUWA’s request to protect Arch Canyon from the damage caused by of off-road vehicles (ORVs).  Instead, the BLM is managing this rare and valuable desert oasis as a racetrack and obstacle course for ATVs and dirt bikes.  In denying SUWA’s request, BLM stated that ORV use does not cause damage to the “cultural, fisheries or riparian resources in the canyon,” even though the eight-mile ORV route crosses the stream 60 times in a one-way trip up to the U.S. Forest Service boundary, where the vehicles must turn around and then drive back down the canyon, crossing the stream another 60 times!

Many of you know and love Arch Canyon, located on the northern edge of Cedar Mesa, in far southeastern Utah. The headwaters of Arch begin in the steep terrain of the Abajo Mountains in the Manti-La Sal National Forest and run down to the high desert, cutting through layers of sandstone and eventually feeding a lush riparian area with fertile bottomlands that attracted Ancestral Puebloan populations over a thousand years ago.

Spectacularly scenic and remote, Arch Canyon’s perennial water flow supports a number of native plant, animal, and fish species, including the flannelmouth sucker, a fish that is listed as a “sensitive species” by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.  In addition, the canyon’s prehistoric inhabitants left behind wondrous artifacts including exceptional sandstone cliff dwellings, rock art, stone tools, pottery sherds and other remnants of their life in the canyon.

By late 2006, when SUWA filed its petition to protect Arch Canyon, it had become clear that jeeps, ATVs, and dirt bikes were causing significant adverse effects to various resources in Arch Canyon.  SUWA documented that ORV use was damaging the valuable stream and associated riparian system and contributing to the damage and looting of numerous archaeological sites in the Canyon.

Unfortunately, BLM’s recent decision is just business as usual, putting motorized use above the preservation of valuable natural and cultural resources.

While we are reviewing legal options, please contact Juan Palma, Utah BLM Director, and ask him to protect Arch Canyon’s rare desert stream, resident fish species, and irreplaceable cultural resources by closing Arch Canyon to ORV use.