High Desert Hoofbeats
At the boiling stage...
by Sena Taylor Hauer
May 15, 2014 | 434 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When I visited Recapture Canyon for the first time a few years ago I was impressed by the beauty of the land but even more so by the amount of Native American ruins and artifacts. When I looked at the ground I saw potsherds scattered everywhere. When I looked up there were numerous ruins wedged in the cliffs, peeking at me through their little square doors. I was amazed at this largesse of natural history just steps off the highway that travels from the north into Blanding.

The canyon was the scene of a rally Saturday wherein dozens of people aboard ATVs illegally drove into the area to protest their feelings that the Bureau of Land Management overreached its powers seven years ago when it closed the road to motorized access.

The timing of the event most certainly capitalized on the groundswell of emotion caused by a Nevada cattle rancher who recently made national headlines for his refusal to pay federal grazing fees. The simmering pot that holds the tensions of land users on both sides of the aisle is at the boiling stage. The anti-government types are organizing themselves into militias, while the environmental camps are redoubling their efforts to prove that humans are ruining the earth.

I am sympathetic to arguments on the left and right. But what I see happening is a lot of wrong. Breaking laws won’t change federal land management policy.

I am not an ATV driver, and I get mad when I see tire tracks of any kind where they aren’t supposed to be. But I’m not convinced that the BLM’s ban of motorized vehicles in Recapture Canyon was fair.

First, who is to say that a narrow road is the cause of damage to artifacts any more so than a footpath? It’s when feet, tires and hooves go off the routes that is a problem. I have been in Recapture a couple of times, guided by friends who live in Blanding and who have enjoyed and respected the area for decades. On my first visit there my guide pointed out the spot that had pushed the BLM to ban vehicles. It was a small vent in the ground, believed to be the opening into a crypt or a kiva, or some kind of ancient and prehistoric ceremonial dwelling. Looting had occurred there, and the BLM was fearful that more theft and damage would occur. And so the road got closed.

Although I’m not an ATVer, I’m not convinced that motorized transportation deserves all the blame for damage. But closing the road certainly has cut down on the number of visitors to the canyon and perhaps reduced the likelihood that more looting will occur. Much like the road closure in Canyonlands National Park’s Salt Creek, the decision to ban vehicles immediately dropped user numbers to miniscule amounts. And perhaps those measures are the fair or unfair mechanism to regulating man’s impact on nature and prehistoric traces of those who lived here hundreds of years before us.

Am I defending motorized use and federal law in one statement? Sounds like it. I can be sympathetic to the fact that it’s not quite fair that ATVs and motorcycles who stay on designated travel routes are blocked from certain areas, and I can be sympathetic to the fact that those measures are the concessions we as a society need to make in an era where man’s impacts are causing permanent damage.

The BLM will prevail on these matters, whether it’s grazing or road rights-of-way. The rallies in Recapture and Nevada won’t bully the government into changing its rules or loosening its protections of the land. The events will make for some interesting headlines, and give the government reason to become more police-like. But civil discussion, not disruption, is the only hope of creating fair policies.

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