A Bureau of Land Management planning process to review the agency’s travel management plan in the Labyrinth Rims / Gemini Bridges area again revealed conflicting views in Greater County on how public lands should be managed and how elected officials best serve their constituents.
While the comments submitted by the county represent only a small part of the larger BLM planning process, the discussion elicited passionate comments from members of the public and a lengthy discussion among the Commissioners.
The management plan
BLM is reviewing 13 travel management plans for areas of Utah as part of a 2017 settlement of a lawsuit filed against the agency by the Southeast Utah Wilderness Alliance, which said the agency had failed to enforce the standards required when designating motorized routes. One of these plans covers the Labyrinth Rims / Gemini Bridges area, an area of over 300,000 acres primarily west of Highway 191 and north of the Colorado River, bounded on the west by the Green River and via Interstate 70 north. The area contains more than 1,200 miles of inventoried routes, according to a March 23 press release from the BLM on the planning process.
Grand County is a cooperating agency in the process and submitted a letter to BLM in May requesting that the new plan take a “zoning” approach to facilitate enjoyment of the area by a variety of user groups, including recreation. motorized and non-motorized. . [See “BLM reviews travel plan,” May 20 edition. -ed.]
“We believe the travel plan should ensure that a reasonable percentage of the planning area is more than a mile from a road or motorized trail,” the May 18 letter said. Under the current travel plan, approximately 95% of the planning area is within half a mile of a motorized route; the letter asks the agency to target 15% of the planning area within a mile or more of a motorized route and 30% within half a mile of a motorized route.
The BLM environmental assessment project offers four management alternatives for further study. The more conservation-oriented alternative still falls short of the commission’s request, reserving only 2.2% of the planning area more than a mile from a motorized route and 16.5% within a half mile of a motorized route.
In response to plans for alternatives and a request from the BLM for a more specific contribution, the Grand County Commission wrote two new letters to the agency. They were both unanimously approved at the December 7 meeting. The first letter highlights the need to deal with conflicts between groups of users, in particular between motorized and non-motorized uses; the second includes a list of specific routes that the commission thinks the BLM should consider closing. The list includes routes popular with both motorized and non-motorized users, such as the Gold Bar Rim route.
In the summary of the agenda and in the discussion, the commissioners noted that the letters do not represent the commission’s recommendations for the final BLM decision, but rather recommendations on possibilities that should be considered and considered further. before.
Public comments and discussion
Several members of the public joined the Zoom meeting to weigh both for and against the letters of the commission.
Patrick McKay, vice president of Colorado Offroad Trail Defenders, called to express his opposition to the letter.
“We view these letters as a complete betrayal of the motorized community by the Grand County Commission,” said McKay, noting that motorized recreation is a very popular activity in the Moab area and brings economic value to the county. He said it would be unfair for motorized users to have to sacrifice routes for the sake of other groups.
“Motorized users are literally the only user group that has always been willing to share routes with other users,” he said. “We don’t require exclusive access like many other groups do. He said that during his travels in the planning zone, he had not experienced any conflicts with mountain bikers or other user groups.
“If Grand County is to create more recreational opportunities for non-motorized users, it should be done in a separate process, and not in the motorized travel plan,” McKay said.
Local resident Kent Green, who recently ran for mayor of Moab, also called for opposing the committee’s letter. Green has a long history of operating a local guiding business that offers motorized tours. He not only opposed the letter, but said it was just the latest example of the commission’s failure to represent all of its constituents.
“I firmly believe that you only take care of a few,” Green said. “You don’t represent everyone. You only represent the people you choose to represent.
Clif Koontz, director of the local advocacy group Ride with Respect, stressed that achieving the commission’s goal of an alternative that leaves 30% of the planning area at least 800 meters from a motorized route would require the closure of hundreds of kilometers of routes.
“There are so many other very effective tools,” Koontz said, such as education and app, that could be used to minimize user conflict while still allowing motorized access.
Other commentators supported the panel’s comment letters. Sam Van Wetter, a Moab resident and organizer of the Rural Utah Project advocacy group, said he also submitted a letter to BLM, as well as a group of Moab businesses that operate commercially on the river. Green. The letter calls for the closure of several motorized roads in the planning area along the river corridor, Van Wetter said, in an effort to restore calm to the river. He expressed his support for the commission’s letter.
The Commissioners responded to some of the comments in their discussion of the matter.
“The ‘no net loss’ rhetoric that comes from special interest groups …” We have more and more users on our public lands, “Stock said, which means increased user conflicts but Also increased impacts. ”She highlighted studies that show how dust from disturbed areas can cover snowfields in the mountains, causing these areas to heat up under the sun and melt faster than if they were clean and reflective. The phenomenon threatens the local aquifer.
“As county leaders, we need to be able to look at the variety of impacts across the landscape and make decisions based on that,” Stock said.
Commissioner Kevin Walker challenged the idea that the current state of the planning area should be seen as a fair and balanced “blank board”; instead, he described it as too open to motorized use. Responding to Koontz’s argument that the commission’s suggestion of 30% of the designated planning area as being half a mile or more from motorized roads would require many trails to be closed, Walker agreed, arguing that if the desired result was the ratio described in the letter, so there are indeed too many motorized routes. In previous decades, widespread motorized access was not as problematic as there were fewer users; with more people and more vehicles, impacts and conflicts increase.
Commissioner Jacques Hadler took the floor to clarify the concept of “user conflict” on the trails, in response to comments from some off-road advocates saying they had not experienced one.
“A conflict is not necessarily a confrontation,” said Hadler. Motorized users may not be aware that river rafters are disturbed by the noise of their vehicles or that mountain bikers are disturbed by the dust raised by their activities – they may not have a confrontation about the problem – but this does not mean not to say that there is no user conflict, explained Hadler.
Walker agreed and illustrated the point with a personal example: he stopped using some motorized routes as running tracks because, while they were only lightly traveled and pleasant to run, they are now too busy with vehicles to be pleasant for foot traffic. This is a user conflict that motorized users would probably not be aware of.
“The point is, all of these conflicts are things you wouldn’t notice if you were in a jeep on the trail,” Walker said.
Commissioner Trisha Hedin said studies show that all forms of recreation, motorized and non-motorized, have negative impacts on wildlife.
“We are all users and we all have impacts on this land,” Hedin said. She stressed that the BLM has a mandate to protect lands under its jurisdiction for multiple uses, and said she empathizes with residents who feel they are not being listened to.
“We represent Grand County,” Hedin said. “We want to make sure that we take, to the best of our ability, care of our environment, but also represent our constituents. “
Commission President Mary McGann addressed this by saying: “Our job is not just to listen to what the public wants. It’s an important and important part of our job, but our job is to look beyond that and see what our future holds in store for us, and to study and find ways to protect and ensure that generations beyond us have some type of water – that they can live here so they can ride on the roads. If we destroy our water supply system, that will not happen.
“Sometimes you have to let go of something you really love in order to protect what’s going to happen in the future,” McGann said.
Commissioners Hadler and Evan Clapper both noted that they would not want to see all roads included in the committee’s list closed to motorized access, but they agreed that those closures should be under the BLM’s review.
The process of revising the travel plan will take several more months; the BLM expects it to be completed by May 2023.