The Bureau of Land Management wants to leave the interior of the San Rafael Swell open to unrestricted off-road vehicle use because nobody has identified a conflict with ORVs there.
That was the rationale behind a major part of the government's preferred alternative for managing the San Rafael area, which was explained on Tuesday by Jim Dryden, the resource area manager. Dryden spoke to the state's Resource Development Coordinating Committee, meeting in the Capitol.The Swell and nearby areas, nearly all within Emery County, are the subject of the BLM's new San Rafael Resource Management Plan.
One possibility that Dryden said the BLM may consider is a plan to have the San Rafael Swell managed as a national recreation area. It would be under BLM jurisdiction, he said.
Two other national recreation areas have been established in Utah - Glen Canyon and Flaming Gorge NRAs, managed by the National Park Service and the Bureau of Reclamation, respectively.
Dryden did not mention a move to have the San Rafael Swell protected as Utah's sixth national park.
"We have to have an identified resource conflict before we can put any restrictions on at all," Dryden told the committee, explaining why the BLM's preferred alternative has no restrictions of ORVs.
But Dryden admitted that there are "two conflicting types of recrea-tion" that are at odds in the San Rafael Swell - "your more primitive, wild lands kind of recreation . . . and the motorized recreation."
Dryden said ORVs are definitely controversial. "It's one of those that no matter what happens, I don't know if anybody'll be happy."
Conservationists' objections to the ORV portion of the far-reaching plan center on the claim that "we didn't have enough areas that are actually closed," Dryden said.
The Swell's center is wide-open to ORVs driving anywhere they wish, even off trails, under the BLM's proposal. In other areas, generally around the Swell's rim, ORVs would be limited to designated roads and trails.
Even within proposed areas of critical environmental concern, most of the San Rafael Swell is open to vehicles that stay on these designated roads and trails.
Another objection is that the BLM hasn't said which roads and trails it will designate, so members of the public don't know what the proposal amounts to.
Still, Dryden said, that doesn't mean the BLM will have "carte blanche to designate what it wants" once the plan is approved. In order to designate the roads and trails, the BLM will have to announce its plans in the Federal Register and then go through a public comment period, he said.
Dryden commented about the inevitable dispute over ORV restrictions, "That'll be a hot one."
Asked what the Emery County residents think of the proposals, Dryden said, "If the county has major problems with the plan I'm not aware what they are."
The county's biggest problem seems to be the wilderness study areas in the San Rafael Swell, a question the plan doesn't attempt to solve.
The county had a problem with the scenic corridor to be protected along I-70 across the Swell. While wishing to preserve the natural scenery, Emery County residents worried about restricting development there.
Dryden said there is not much mineral activity in the entire resource area.
Comments by the public on the BLM's proposals are due by Dec. 9.
Milo Barney, the committee's chairman, said, "This is going to be a critical Resource Management Plan review." He wants state agencies to have comments by Nov. 19.
Four meetings have been scheduled for the public to discuss the plan with BLM experts, starting next week. They will be Sept. 20 at the Emery County Courthouse in Castle Dale; Sept. 22 at the Tamarisk Inn, Green River; Sept. 27 at the Huntington City Hall; and Sept. 29 at the Salt Palace in Salt Lake City.