Monument Designation Trumps 12 Year Process for Trail in Bears Ears

Ravell Call, Deseret News
San Juan ATV Safari riders navigate the Piute Pass trail south of Hanksville and west of Blanding, Utah.

Two weeks too late
I think that this is a sad story. I understand both sides of “not wanting more ATV trails” and “wanting to connect existing trails” and especially “getting ATV’s off other roads.” I get that “if there are hundreds of miles already within the monument, what’s six more?” and “if there are already hundreds of miles, why do you need six more?”. In short, I get how people can disagree about this specific trail. But really, they’ve been working on this six miles for 12 years and they missed the window by two weeks? Can federal land management get any sillier? If it were up to me, I would take existing projects and have a separate process for determining whether to “grandfather” them in or not. This article by Amy Joi O’Donoghue of the Deseret News is worth a read in its ready to laugh, cry or both.

The new Bears Ears National Monument is already impacting land use in the region after a judge said an 12-year-old proposal to build an off-road trail is contrary to the presidential proclamation.

A judge with the Interior Board of Land Appeals ruled this week that no work can begin on the 6.4 mile ATV loop the Bureau of Land Management approved for the Indian Creek area until an appeal brought by environmental groups is settled.

The loop, sought by San Juan County since 2005, was approved by the BLM in December, just a little under two weeks before then-President Barack Obama made the 1.35 million-acre monument designation in southeast Utah.

Judge Silvia M. Riechel noted the proclamation states that any additional roads or trails designated for motorized use are restricted to those necessary for public safety or protection of objects covered by the proclamation.

Even though the BLM approved the trail prior to the monument designation, Riechel said the agency’s decision was not yet in effect because of an automatic 30-day appeal period.

“This is an exciting victory for wilderness, and is the first time an administrative body or court has addressed the legal effect of the Bears Ears National Monument proclamation, which calls for careful consideration and analysis when managing the spectacular and irreplaceable resources within its boundaries,” wrote Kya Marienfeld in a blog posted by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

Apparently there’s a 30 day wait period for ordinary BLM decisions, but not for extraordinary decisions like Monument designations.

Nobody knows at this point what kind of restrictions are actually going to be employed on the monument. It’s all up in the air,” Rampton said.

He added that the delay, too, marks another setback in what has been a long, drawn out battle.

“The plaintiffs in the case, the environmental groups, just don’t want ATVs anywhere. They certainly don’t want ATVs in any area that has wilderness characteristics. That is what their primary objective is, to keep ATVs out of the public lands to the greatest degree possible. They are very dogged and determined, and they are having some success,” Rampton said.

The environmental groups successfully argued that granting a delay in the construction of the trail prevents unnecessary environmental degradation to lands that would remain damaged long after the appeal is resolved.

The decision concluded that public interest was best served by preventing environmental degradation and preserving the status quo.

The BLM had argued that the 65-inch wide trail did serve a public safety purpose by routing ATVs off an existing trail frequently traveled by full-sized vehicles.

It’s also interesting that “the BLM argued” and apparently the BLM was on the side of the trail.. yet the BLM supported the Monument designation also. Perhaps the court case was unable to shift gears that fast? It would certainly appear that elements of the BLM (and the Justice Department) did in fact support something (at least until mid-December) that was contrary to the designation.

1 thought on “Monument Designation Trumps 12 Year Process for Trail in Bears Ears”

  1. There are probably always little glitches in grand decisions. Sometimes they go the other way: “Before Glacier National Park was created in 1910, opponents cut the proposed area by two-thirds to allow mining and ranching.”

    This 2007 article includes some history of local opposition to protective land designations at the time that turned to local support over time, and makes an even grander point (George Wuerthner speaking):

    “The take-home message I get from a broad reading of conservation history is that local opposition to anything worthwhile is to be expected. Trying to accommodate entrenched local interests invariably weakens protective measures and typically reduces the effectiveness of conservation efforts. Imagine what we would have had if civil rights activists had tried to work with southern racists to hammer out a “collaborative” agreement on civil rights. If they were lucky, they might have gotten modest accommodations as such as allowing African Americans to sit anywhere on buses, but it is doubtful that we would have the sweeping changes that enactment of the 1964 Civil Rights Act created, such as ending discrimination in employment as well as segregation in schools and other public places. As citizens and conservationists we ought to learn from these history lessons and look beyond parochial regional interests to advocate what is in the best long term interest of the nation and that best preserves our collective natural heritage.”

    And then there is today: “Strong majorities in every (western) state want to maintain designations of public land as National Monuments.” That includes Bears Ears specifically.


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