That won’t happen, according to a spokesman for Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, the controversial Utah monument designated by President Clinton in 1996.
Of the 908 miles approved for recreational use in the Grand Staircase monument, 553 miles are open to ATVs and motorcycles, said Larry Crutchfield. In addition, he said existing uses such as oil drilling continued without being affected by the new status.
More roads in Grand Staircase-Escalante may be opened to all-terrain vehicles in the future, depending on the outcome of lawsuits filed by Kane and Garfield counties and others, Crutchfield added. Those suits seek to have historic routes honored as roadways under RS 2477 designation.
Crutchfield said a Kanab-area four-wheel drive club was concerned when monument status was declared at Grand Staircase, but most of that stemmed from confusion over which routes were open to motorized travel and which weren’t.
Response from off-road drivers over the years has been generally supportive, Crutchfield said. “Almost every four-wheeler is opposed to driving cross-country.”
However, the president of a Kanab off-road vehicle club says members aren’t happy with the Staircase monument. He acknowledged many miles of trails remain open, but said motor vehicles are banned on other routes.
“They did close a lot of roads,” Tony Wright said. “We lost a lot of good roads we had been using for years. It hasn’t worked well for us.”
Part of the problem, he said, was that people from outside the local area set up a recreation plan that determined which roads would be open to motor vehicles.
“There was no input from local people,” Wright said.
He noted that five additional roads have been approved for motor vehicle use through RS 2477 lawsuits, and he hopes more will be added in the future. He also issued a warning to other recreation users about possible monument status.
“They close (trails) to motorists and the next thing they’ll go after is hikers,” he said.
Opponents from the Moab-based Sagebrush Coalition also pointed to what they called the loss of commercial access to 2 trillion tons of coal in Grand Staircase when it became a national monument. But Moab resident Bonnie Crysdale, a retired U.S. Geological Survey employee, rejected that contention in a letter to The Times-Independent.
“When I was working as a geologist for the USGS, an acquaintance at the Bureau of Mines was involved in studying the coal removal plan, and this person told me that all of the coal to be extracted was to be shipped overseas (none for domestic use), and that the Bureau of Mines would not issue a permit because it was so environmentally destructive,” Crysdale wrote. “So even if the monument had never been granted, a permit to mine would probably never have been issued.”
Proponents of monument status at Canyonlands point to better preservation of sensitive habitat as a benefit of increased regulation. The Outdoor Industry Association sent a letter to President Obama last month urging him to declare monument status surrounding Canyonlands.
“The future of our outdoor recreation economy depends on protecting iconic landscapes – such as Greater Canyonlands – where people go to recreate,” the letter stated. “And monument proclamation is an important and effective way to provide the protection that is needed.”