The BLM’s Monticello Field Office recently capitulated to pressure from San Juan County and ceded control and management of public lands for four rights-of-way for new off-road vehicle (ORV) trails on Cedar Mesa.
Recall that in 2008 the BLM designated routes across public lands in southern Utah, effectively ending the out-dated and ridiculous policy of unrestricted cross-country travel. Although the BLM’s travel plan for public lands in San Juan County isn’t perfect (SUWA has a pending legal challenge to the travel plan in federal court), it is a big improvement over the unmitigated chaos of cross-country travel.
However, even though the BLM designated more than 3,000 miles of routes and trails in San Juan County, it was nevertheless too few for the fanatical road cultists there. And, inexplicably, the BLM rolled over, giving the county rights-of-way to build new ORV trails on Cedar Mesa. The new trails will connect ORV routes on the east side of Cedar Mesa with routes on the west side of Cedar Mesa, thereby allowing ORV riders to “travel back and forth” between the two areas more conveniently!
Two of the new rights-of-way bisect lands in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act, places even the BLM agrees are of wilderness caliber. The BLM’s decision to allow new ORV routes in these areas effectively negates the wilderness and roadless character of large tracts of land. It would have been bad enough for the BLM to merely designate and add these new ORV trails on Cedar Mesa to the agency’s travel plan. But it defies logic why the BLM would hand over management and control of public lands to the county by granting rights-of-way for these ORV trails. What’s more, these rights-of-way can be renewed after 20 years, ad infinitum, effectively giving the county ownership of these routes in perpetuity.
It boils down to this: The BLM is legally responsible for protecting archaeology and natural resources on our public lands; beyond argument, ORV use results in increased vandalism and looting of archaeological sites, degrades water quality and stream functioning, increases soil erosion and fragments wildlife. With this in mind, it makes little sense to allow San Juan County to chainsaw old-growth juniper trees to bulldoze new routes across roadless wildlands in areas with some of the richest archaeology on the planet. Yet that’s exactly what the BLM has done.
San Juan County has additional ORV rights-of-way requests in the queue – one in Indian Creek and the other in Recapture Canyon. Please ask the Utah State BLM Director to stand up to the pressure from San Juan County and deny the county’s request for ORV rights-of-way in Indian Creek and Recapture Canyon.