Conservationists seeking to halt a Jeep Jamboree in Arch Canyon were dealt a defeat Friday when the Interior Department's regional solicitor ruled the Bureau of Land Management does not have to halt the safari pending an appeal by conservationists.
Conservationists had appealed a decision by the BLM that granted a commercial recreation permit for up to 100 Jeep enthusiasts to tour Arch Canyon, which is part of a wilderness bill proposed recently by Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah.As of Friday, only 16 Jeeps were participating in the event.
The canyon, located about 15 miles west of Blanding, is noted for its colorful, steep walls and Anasazi ruins, as well as a difficult four-wheel-drive trail that has existed for decades.
Conservationists were outraged the BLM gave permission for the Jeeps to enter the canyon, which has long been a cherished hiking spot for Utah outdoor enthusiasts. They are further outraged that the BLM did not seek public comment.
"It is a legally permissible event, it is appropriate, it is authorized within the area and we've looked at the concerns and can see no impact to the area," said Jerry Meredith, public affairs officer for the Salt Lake office of the BLM.
Two BLM officials, including an archaeologist, were to accompany the Jeep safari to ensure the conditions of the permits are met and no damage is done to Indian ruins or the canyon itself.
Lawson LeGate, the Sierra Club's public lands officer in Utah, said the appeal was lodged by the Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society. As they understand the law, such an appeal carries an automatic stay that should prevent the expedition for now.
Meredith said the BLM received the appeal and it will go through the BLM review process. Regarding the fact that it won't stop the safari, Meredith added, "We have a ruling that the regulations do not provide for a stay when an appeal is filed on a recreational permit."
The environmentalists Thursday offered the BLM officials a deal: If the BLM would agree to give a 30-day notice before any action that could significantly affect any of the areas in Owens' 5.1-million-acre wilderness bill, they would call off the appeal and the Jeep Jamboree could proceed. The BLM refused.
Alex VanHemert, supervisor of outdoor recreation planning in the BLM's Monticello office, told the Deseret News that the BLM prepared an environmental assessment that concluded that the Jeep Jamboree should be held. BLM officials analyzed the potential effects of the jamboree on the adjacent land and vegetation, deciding that there wouldn't be significant effects on them.
The canyon is not presently an official Area of Critical Environmental Concern, he said, but it's being considered for such a designation. Also, it is not one of the BLM's wilderness study areas, although environmentalists have long contended it should be.
One reason BLM said it allowed the safari is that the four-wheel-drive trail is a Class D county road, a non-maintained dirt trail.