The Annual Easter Jeep Safari will arrive Saturday with a court hearing in the offing, with environmentalists dogging participants and sponsors determined to keep the program fun despite the controversy.
This year marks the silver anniversary of the Jeep Safari and the first time in its 25 years that the event has faced a serious challenge from environmentalists.While "pre-runs" proceeded as scheduled a week in advance of the "silver" Safari, a coalition of environmental groups was recruiting volunteers to monitor trail runs during the main event Saturday.
Brant Calkin, executive director of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said Tuesday that volunteers will be watching for violations of stipulations to the five-year special recreational use permit the U.S. Bureau of Land Management issued last fall to the sponsors of the event, the Red Rock 4-Wheelers Club.
Ken Rhea, Moab District acting manager, said the BLM will also keep track of safari activities like never before, to ensure that 25 stipulations of the permit are observed, including a limit on the number of participants.
The BLM called for a meeting Thursday with the sponsors to go over terms of the permit, Rhea said. "And of course, we'll have people in the field monitoring what's going on."
Rhea said field observers will watch in particular for destruction of stream crossings, interference with bighorn sheep, disturbance of archaeological sites and off-road vehicles straying from trails.
Volunteers will be reporting to the local office of the Wilderness Alliance, which opened this week in downtown Moab.
Reports of violations could also end up in court in support of arguments that the BLM should have required an environmental impact statement on the safari before renewing the permit.
"Yeah, we'll be going to court, probably within the next 60 days," Calkin said.
"The situation we have now is, by (the BLM) issuing the five-year permit on a proposal without investigation of any alternative, we clearly have to go out and try to get a hold on the permit," he said.
Rhea said the BLM has yet to receive notice of any plans for a federal district court action. Should further challenges to the permit come up, he said, "We feel we have a good case and would be successful in court."
Redress in federal court is the only recourse at this point for environmentalists opposed to currently permitted uses during the safari and Labor Day Campout.
Environmental groups had formally appealed the decision by the Grand Resource Area manager to renew the permit last fall.
The appeal for a stay of the decision was rejected March 15 by the U.S. Interior Board of Land Appeals.
The permit allows use of 28 trails by up to 1,610 vehicles during the safari. It also allows for the addition, over a five-year period, of three "expansion trails" and 120 more vehicles during Labor Day, and six new trails with 50 vehicles each during the safari.