When he sat down to watch MTV a few weeks ago, the last thing David W. Johnson expected to see was Jon Bon Jovi setting fire to an ecologically sensitive butte in southern Utah.
But when Johnson, an associate professor of biology at Sante Fe College in New Mexico, looked closely at the makeshift drive-in theater Bon Jovi's band was burning to the ground, the scenery was unmistakable - it was Priest and Nuns Butte in Castle Valley."I thought the area looked familiar," Johnson said. "When I saw where it was, I got upset."
In 1981, Johnson spent three days studying the delicate vegetation of the butte - a five-acre area he says may have held the key to understanding how small animals compete for resources.
Now, he wants to know why the Bureau of Land Management issued a permit to the band and whether the band caused any damage to the area. He sent a letter to BLM officials and plans soon to write to Bon Jovi.
Film industry officials say the band caused little damage and cleaned up its mess in accordance with strict BLM guidelines.
"We really get bum raps," said Betty Stanton, director of the Moab Film Commission. "No matter how clean we try to be, someone always comes out of the woodwork to complain."
Bon Jovi used the butte to film a video accompanying the theme to "Young Guns II," a movie produced by 20th Century Fox. Stanton said the band may have burned vegetation directly under the drive-in movie screen that burned in the video, but the film crew was restricted from starting the fire in any wind exceeding 10 mph.
Johnson said he just wants answers. He's not interested in taking legal action.
When he examined the butte in 1981, Johnson found it virtually untouched by large animals. Only lizards and other small animals were present. The grass was held in place by a delicate ecological balance that easily could be disturbed, he said.
The BLM has asked its staff to report on the matter. Gene Nodine, BLM district manager in Moab, said the bureau issues several filming permits each year in the plateau region of southern Utah. Automakers, who seem to like showing various cars sitting alone atop spectacular buttes, do much of the filming.
"We did issue the permit (to Bon Jovi)," Nodine said. "I'm concerned about the way the area was left. If what this man (Johnson) says is true, we will have to take some action." That action would involve a letter asking Bon Jovi to return and clean the site.
The filming was done in mid-August, Nodine said. He said the BLM requires groups that are issued permits to repair any damage done to the environment. BLM officials examine the area after filming is done.
The band apparently put cars, parts of a drive-in theater and "assorted junk" on the butte for the video, Johnson said. The band then burned the drive-in screen.
"I couldn't tell if the vegetation was being burned or not (on the video)," Johnson said.
Bon Jovi's publicist did not return calls Monday.
Johnson's concerns have caught the attention of another group. Jim Ruch, executive vice president of the Grand Canyon Trust, a non-profit organization concerned about the Colorado plateau region, said the filming "sounds like an awfully poor use of lands that belong to all of us.
"I can think of a lot better places to do that sort of thing, such as downtown New York."
Ruch opposes all commercial filming in the plateau region. He said automobile ads from the area send the message that it's all right to take vehicles into the desert and rip up the landscape.
"I wonder what they (car companies) have given back to the area," he said.