Critics of a land-use plan for more than 1 million acres in San Juan and Grand counties say the federal government could be risking the loss of priceless Anasazi relics and ruins.
The U.S. Bureau of Land Management's Monticello office's management plan for the 1.8 million acres proposes eliminating special protections for Cedar Mesa, Dark Canyon and Butler Wash. The areas are home to some of Utah's ancient archaeological treasures.
The plan would alter the designation on the sites from "areas of critical environmental concern" to "special recreation-management areas."
"That's a real difference in focus," University of Utah anthropology professor Duncan Metcalfe said Friday. "The names say it."
Metcalfe and preservationists worry that increased recreation could damage or destroy sites and relics that help tell Utah's tribal history.
The BLM contends the changes would allow for more scrutiny of visitors to the ruins and greater enforcement powers and opportunities.
"And that's where we can be most effective," Monticello field office manager Tom Heinlein said.
Under the proposal, recreation-management areas would be divided into zones with specific rules for visitors, Heinlein said. The rules would restrict access to some areas and limit the number of people who could visit places such as Cedar Mesa's 13th-century Moon House, an Anasazi relic, at one time.
The public comment period on the plan is over, but citizens can continue to lodge objections with the BLM for the next 30 days.
The BLM document is immense and covers a wide range of potential impacts from different uses and sources, such as climate change, recreation and mineral extraction.
More than 28,000 cultural sites have been recorded within the 1.8 million acres, and some are linked to Pueblo people, Archaic and Paleo Indian cultures, and a number of American Indian tribes.For more information about the proposed plan, visit the Web site, www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/monticello/planning/draft_rmp_eis.html.
Contributing: Deseret News.