We have some great news to report, but first a bit of background.
Just two weeks before President Barack Obama moved to permanently protect the Bears Ears National Monument in December, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decided to once again push forward with its failed plans to construct a network of all-terrain vehicle (ATV) trails in Indian Creek at the heart of the new monument. There was no opportunity for public review or comment.
Indian Creek ATV routes have been a San Juan County obsession for years and the BLM has been scrambling to comply, first approving construction of the project in early 2015. SUWA and several local partners challenged the BLM’s 2015 decision and won a stay from the Interior Board of Land Appeals (the Board), which sent the project back to the agency for additional environmental analysis.
Despite the Board order, the BLM’s latest decision repeats the same mistakes as its initial approval of the project, but this time authorizes the construction of new trails and associated parking areas on public lands that are not only wilderness-quality but also now a part of Bears Ears National Monument. The Bears Ears proclamation calls for a full planning process before the agency designates new roads or trails. Carving up the Indian Creek area, with no public involvement in the decision, is antithetical to that requirement and ought to be withdrawn on that ground alone.
Indian Creek, like the rest of the new monument, contains a wealth of irreplaceable cultural resources. It is also an internationally treasured rock-climbing destination and the breathtaking gateway into the Needles District of Canyonlands National Park. New ATV trails would expand motorized use into a part of the region that currently does not suffer from heavy off-road vehicle traffic and would dramatically decrease opportunities for solitude in the region. Continuing our opposition that began almost ten years ago, SUWA, joined by our friends at Grand Canyon Trust, the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, and Great Old Broads for Wilderness, appealed the BLM’s latest decision in January of this year.
In exciting news, just before this newsletter went to press, the Board agreed that the potential for irreparable harm was too high to allow the project to move forward before our appeal was resolved, and granted our Petition for Stay—something the Board does only sparingly. This stay will halt construction on the project until the Board has an opportunity to rule on the merits of our appeal regarding the legality of the new trails.
We are hopeful that as we seek to resolve the appeal, the Board will once again come to the same conclusion it did in granting a stay: that the trails, for motorized recreation and not for public safety or protection of monument resources, are inconsistent with the Bears Ears proclamation and should not be constructed.
We’re bolstered by this recent decision and applaud the Board for deciding in favor of preventing any harm to the environment and preserving the status quo pending resolution of our appeal. We’ll keep you posted as we continue this very important fight.
(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, Spring 2017 issue)