T-I Guest Commentary
Greater Canyonlands – A monumental mistake that may also spark collaboration....
by Clif Koontz
Dec 13, 2012 | 3730 views | 0 0 comments | 29 29 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Controversy makes for interesting discussion, and for that we can thank the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), which proposed to designate “Greater Canyonlands” as a national monument. The issue is near to me, as I’ve worked within the Greater Canyonlands boundary for the better part of 2012. My employer, Ride with Respect (RwR), partners with the Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service to make off-highway vehicle trails more safe, satisfying, and sustainable. This year alone, the nonprofit invested tens of thousands of dollars in OHV opportunities everywhere from the Abajo Mountains up to Tenmile Point.

With such a large area to cover, progress seems slow. I try to keep in mind that four-wheeling and motorcycle trail riding began after World War II. For 60 years, these activities were not closely regulated around Moab. In 2008, the BLM finally limited travel to designated routes. This resource management plan (RMP) actually closed half of the primitive roads and three-quarters of the trails. To help implement the plan, RwR is rehabilitating closed routes and delineating the open ones, hopefully followed by a widespread education campaign. There’s a lot of catching up left to do, but management is definitely on the right track.

Given the recent restrictions and volunteer efforts, this new monument proposal seems like tragic timing to most OHV riders. Theoretically, national monuments can include all kinds of trails, and some mining activity. But for every example of a monument with an OHV trail, or even a mountain bike trail, there are a dozen monuments with none. Over a decade ago, the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) met directly with President Clinton about Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. That monument still prohibits mountain biking on single-track trails. Apparently, such details should be secured upfront, well before requesting a signature from the White House.

As for the mining industry, I’m no expert. According to BLM’s RMP, the portion of land that’s either limited or closed to oil and gas leasing rose from 43 percent to 77 percent. Thus far, mining hasn’t substantially compromised recreation around Moab. When mining proposals impinged on Jeep Safari routes in 2008, recreation groups from IMBA to the Blue Ribbon Coalition successfully called for the routes to be avoided, or at least mitigated. Granted, the BLM process for mining should consider impacts to recreation more thoroughly. But telling an entire industry to stay in the Uintah Basin is going too far. If activities are zoned on such a large scale, then I suppose OHV riders could be sent to the moon.

Furthermore, this monument proposal made no distinction from the one by Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA). They share the same name, boundary, and rhetoric against “dirt routes and trails that crisscross Utah’s federally-owned wildlands.” A SUWA fact sheet acknowledges that the monument would cover 2.3 million acres, excluding state and private land. Since Canyonlands and Natural Bridges total 0.34 million acres, this effectively expands the national park by nearly 700 percent. On YouTube, a SUWA video promoting the monument features a handful of Moab business owners. They have a right to endorse the proposal, and consumers have a right to boycott the businesses.

Nevertheless, I hope both sides maintain civility, as personal attacks are simply unjustified. Better yet, OHV riders should constructively engage businesses, many of which were misled by OIA. I know some of the business owners to be good folks who genuinely support shared-use on a wide range of trails. Perhaps they’d consider retracting their business’s endorsement, or at least formally clarifying their intentions. After all, the endorsement may have stemmed from genuine concerns about global issues like climate instability, tar-sands, or fracking. Open dialogue could help to identify solutions that’d be far more applicable than monument designation.

Although BLM’s RMP resolved many issues, a few of them linger. Debates like wilderness designation wouldn’t be settled by this monument proposal, but they could be settled by a more comprehensive land-use bill. Grand County ought to reject the current proposal, as the other counties have done. Then our county could develop its own land-use bill, as Washington County has done. The bill would likely include a little more park land, wilderness, and developed areas. Most of all, it would provide a lot more certainty for tourism and other industries.

On one hand, we don’t need OIA to dictate the most sweeping land designation in southeast Utah’s history. Asking our second-term president to proclaim a controversial monument is, well, a not-so-democratic approach. On the other hand, we shouldn’t let the issue divide us as a community. Instead let’s pool our local knowledge and get all stakeholders to the table. With a more universally beneficial plan in place, we can work our way up to Congress, just like the process that established Canyonlands National Park.

In the meantime, there’s plenty of opportunity to improve diverse recreation and the health of natural resources. Please volunteer directly for the land managers, or through cooperative groups such as Trail Mix, RwR, Moab Friends For Wheelin’, etc. It’s amazing what can be accomplished with hand tools and teamwork.

Clif Koontz is the Program Director of Ride with Respect, which maintains recreational trails and educates visitors surrounding Moab.

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