Interest groups protest RMP process, timing

The draft resource management plan and draft environmental impact statement (DRMP/DEIS) for the Moab planning area has been out for well over a week, but because of its size and scope, interest groups have said they are not ready to respond to specifics.

They have plenty to say, however, about how it was done. They also feel that the timing of the report’s release is at best unfortunate, at worst politically-motivated, because the Moab area plan is just the first of six area plan documents that will all be released within a few weeks of one another.

Is the timing, as some have suggested, politically motivated?

“You gotta believe it is,” said Liz Thomas of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), alluding to pressure within the Bush administration to get the plans in place before leaving office.

Thomas points out that her organization’s specialists and volunteers will be stretched to the limit trying to review six enormous documents credibly. She adds that residents and recreation oriented businesses in Grand and San Juan Counties face the task at the time of their busy fall tourist season.

Brian Hawthorne of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, an off-road group that works to block restrictions from being imposed on motorized recreation on pubic lands, avoids a direct answer. “We knew it would be a lot of work [when the process started],” he said. “But [we were] not aware of just how much [work] would be.”

“I feel like I’m under six feet of water, its a lot of work,” said Hawthorne, addressing the prospect of commenting on six draft plans and EISs within the allowed 90-day review period. That sentiment is echoed by Dale Parriott of Moab based Ride With Respect. “I’m dealing right now, up to six hours a day on the phone,” with land users, developers and agencies, he said.

“It’s just hard to believe that there’s been so little management done on the impacts of recreation travel on public lands in the last 15 years that we have to respond to all these plans at once,” said Veronica Egan of Great Old Broads for Wilderness. “Groups are being stretched to their limits to respond in a timely fashion to these documents in a coherent or useful manner.”

Jerry McNeely who represents the Grand County Council on public land matters said he is pleased with the close working relationship that endured throughout the five-year planning process between himself, representing the Grand County Council, and the BLM.

But, unlike Grand County, the most closely-related interest groups complain they had little role in making the product.

“We were involved very early on (in meetings of stakeholders)” Hawthorne said, adding that the meetings were “contentious with lots of whining.” The consensus was, he explained, that it was too high-profile, so the BLM decided to work with the county without interest groups.

SUWA feels that the planners did not take advantage of available local knowledge, according to Thomas, who stresseed the BLM’s mandate to protect the resource. “I think they have resource specialists who were ignored in the process.”

“You have no idea the frustration about the way the government is handling this whole situation,” Parriott said. “My frustration is the way the different agencies have construed directives from the Department of Interior and how they’ve worked it into their personal agendas.”

Hawthorne said he believes the BLM “had a very clear idea of where they wanted to go,” but “they didn’t feel the need to reach out to recreational users.” Now, he added, they face an “outreach struggle at this late stage in the game.”

Egan, of the Great Old Broads, said her group will “keep a close eye on the health of the land.”

Addressing such public input issues Moab area RMP project manager Brent Northrup says the way the job was done is “part of the process. The draft is now available to the public and interest groups to provide their input about every aspect of the plan.”

Referring to the scoping process, which included public meetings that Hawthorne called contentious, Northrup said the meetings were held to “identify what we would look at in the plans, what the public felt was most important to them.”

When those meetings were finished, BLM staff prepared a scoping report that, according to Northrup, has been “available on our website for months.”

Guided by the the scoping report, Northrup said the BLM, “worked with our cooperating agencies [notably Grand County] since then to determine how to address the issues in a range of alternatives.”

“There’s a large range of management actions in the four alternatives,” Northrup said. “The final RMP/EIS will be a selection of those we feel will be the best suited for managing this area in the future after considering public input.”

Regarding the timing of six draft management plans coming out all at once, Northrup admitted, “We’ve got bottlenecked at this point where we’re all trying to meet a schedule.”

ByBy Craig Bigler, contributing writer