SALT LAKE CITY — The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance wants the Interior Department to ban off-road vehicles from 1,050 miles of trails in the greater Canyonlands area until there are further studies on ORV impacts there.
Opponents of the idea say restrictions will cause more strain on other public lands and do more harm than good, and that routes should be managed, not closed.
The area of interest includes 1.4 million acres under the control of the Bureau of Land Management, which the environmental group says has "failed to effectively protect the area from the impacts of ORV use."
The BLM developed its first large-scale trail maps in 2008, designating 20,000 miles of ORV routes in southern and eastern Utah. SUWA sued the BLM over the 2008 plans and now plans to petition the Interior Department directly.
In an approximately 200-page document SUWA plans to hand-carry to the Interior Department Wednesday, the group says "Greater Canyonlands is a landscape in dire distress" and that ORV use has "outstripped the BLM's ability to monitor and enforce this activity, and the destructive effects of ORV use continue to multiply."
The petition is filled with text, maps and photographs and is not the type that contains a list of signatures from individual supporters.
The BLM said it is unable to respond to SUWA's complaints or requests because the petition appears to mirror the complaints in the lawsuit, which is unresolved, said Mitch Snow, BLM's Utah spokesman.
SUWA Associate Director Heidi McIntosh said the lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, D.C., in 2008, is still in the procedural stage where issues like venue are being considered. She describes the petition as a "completely different vehicle."
SUWA identifies "Greater Canyonlands" as the area including Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Notable landmarks in the area it wants restricted include Butch Cassidy's Robbers Roost and Labyrinth Canyon, McIntosh said.
"Protecting the Greater Canyonlands would knit these 'crown jewels' together in a complementary system of land management, which protects the most threatened resources, permits native plants and wildlife to migrate freely in response to climate and environmental changes, ameliorates conflicts among ORV users and others, and facilitates a more comprehensive management approach based on watersheds and water conservation," the petition says.
Michael Swenson, executive director of Utah Shared Access Alliance, said SUWA's approach shows a hatred of off-road vehicles and the people who use them. "Allowing the public greater access to public land will enhance the public’s love of the land. We protect what we know and love. Closure of routes will not truly protect anything. However, increased closures will shift and concentrate use into ever-smaller places, thereby creating greater impacts. Route closure is not the solution. Active management with input from all user groups is what is needed."
SUWA held a press conference Wednesday morning to announce the most recent avenue it is pursuing to limit ORV traffic. "We think it's a fair and reasonable approach to what's become an increasing problem," McIntosh said. Many of the trails it wants restricted are riparian areas. "Where the water is, of course that's where the life is going to be."
Marion Klaus, Utah chairwoman of the Sierra Club, and author and photographer Stephen Trimble also spoke in favor of the petition, citing negative environmental, aesthetic and economic impacts ORV use can present.
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