Redrock management: Environmentalists, OHV fans and energy firms likely on collision course
By Patty Henetz
The Salt Lake Tribune
Article Last Updated: 08/29/2007 06:29:02 AM MDT


The southern Utah redrock country around Moab is getting a new land management plan, the first in 22 years - a timespan that has seen escalating polarization among wilderness advocates, off-road vehicle enthusiasts and energy development companies.
The Bureau of Land Management last week released its draft resource management plan for 1.8 million acres of federal lands in Grand County and northern San Juan County. At its heart are questions of how to manage all federal land uses to minimize conflict in a region world-renowned for its beauty.
Good luck.
Already, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is vowing legal action based on what will happen to wilderness-quality lands and cultural resources such as ancient rock art. And while off-road vehicle enthusiasts haven't yet waved the lawsuit flag publicly, they do claim the draft plan proposes to close too much land to motorized travel.
But BLM officials say that while they have laid out a "preferred alternative," the public needs to understand that the document is just a draft.
"This document is not making decisions," said Shelley Smith, acting field manager for the BLM in Moab. "In the final [plan], we can pick from any alternative.
Four years in the making, the resource management plan draft analysis includes such topics as recreation, motorized travel, mineral development, land

with wilderness characteristics, wilderness study areas, fire management, wildlife, livestock grazing and special land qualities. It also proposes that 10 segments of the Green, Dolores and Colorado rivers be given wild and scenic designation and outlines the preferred land use for oil and gas leasing.
The plan was last updated in 1985 - before the boom in OHV use, before federal directives to speed oil and gas development, before designation of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which though in a different region helped stimulate tourism to Utah's southern desert.
That it has taken so long for the revisions will contribute to the public's reaction - shock, even - said Steve Jackson, acting director of the Utah Shared Access Alliance, which promotes off-highway motorized travel on public land.
"We certainly recognize the need to update the management plan," he said
But the preferred alternative would mean "we're going to lose anywhere from 3,000 to 4,000 [miles] of existing routes," Jackson said.
The preferred alternative also would close about 1.5 million acres to unrestricted cross-country travel. Though there would be trails and roads open on the same number of acres, off-roading won't be as satisfying, Jackson said.
On the other side of that issue are conservation groups such as SUWA, whose representatives are appalled at the amount of access the preferred alternative would provide to off-highway vehicles.
Liz Thomas, SUWA's attorney in the Moab area, said her organization analyzed geographic information system modeling and mapping compiled by Grand County and found that 98 percent of BLM land in the Moab field office area below Interstate 70 is less than a mile from a road or trail open to motorized travel. The same analysis showed that 91 percent of the land lay within one-half mile of an OHV trail or a road.
Maps of OHV trails in the Labyrinth Canyon area "look like a spaghetti bowl," Thomas said. Trails are in Hunter Canyon, Ten Mile Canyon, on the ridge above Arches National Park, down stream beds and in river bottoms - "places that are pretty spectacular," she said.
Thomas also pointed out that while the BLM during the Clinton administration identified 266,000 acres outside of wilderness or wilderness study areas as having wilderness qualities, the preferred alternative proposed to manage just 47,000 acres as wilderness-quality. That's an 82 percent cut in the agency's own inventory, she said.
Smith pointed out that the resource plan draft includes an alternative that would keep all 266,000 acres, and reiterated that the preferred alternative wouldn't necessarily be the final choice. As for OHV cross-country access, "it is simply not acceptable to have unlimited, indiscriminate cross-country travel," she said.
The public plays a major part in BLM decision-making, Smith said. Information has been available during the scoping period, in mailings, on CDs and the Internet, where the agency has posted all its background documents, including mineral reports, wilderness characteristic inventories, range and road maps and trail analyses. "We invite people to dig into that data and see for themselves," Smith said.




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The Bureau of Land Management has released its Moab draft resource management plan and environmental impact statement. The plan is available on the Web at www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/prog/planning.1.html.
The Moab Field Office has planned four public meetings in Utah: Moab, Monticello, and Salt Lake City; and in Grand Junction, Colo. The meetings will be held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the following locations:
* Sept. 25: Grand Center, 182 N. 500 West, Moab
* Sept. 26: Monticello High School, 164 S. 200 West, Monticello
* Sept. 27: Two Rivers Convention Center, 159 Main St., Grand Junction, Colo.
* Oct. 3: Salt Lake City Main Library, 210 E. 400 South, Salt Lake City