Rep. Curtis still seeking consensus on OHVs in National Parks

Grand County, Castle Valley, Moab officials jointly oppose rule change

Moab Mayor Emily Niehaus, Grand County Council Chair Evan Clapper and Castle Valley Mayor Jazmine Duncan sign a joint resolution opposing the use of OHVs in southeastern Utah’s National Parks and National Monuments. Photo by Carter Pape

In the first joint meeting of the Moab City Council, Grand County Council and Town Council of Castle Valley in recent memory, the three bodies unanimously voted to oppose the use of off-highway vehicles, such as ATVs and UTVs, in southeast Utah’s national parks and monuments.

The order to allow OHVs in Utah’s National Parks, handed down by Acting Regional Director of the National Park Service, Palmer “Chip” Jenkins last month, is scheduled to go into effect on Nov. 1. The order came as a surprise to elected officials in both Moab and Washington, D.C.

“This is a very significant topic that we’re dealing with that really came out of left field,” Grand County Council Chair Evan Clapper said as he opened the special joint emergency meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

Opposition to the change could stall or prevent the enforcement of the rule; Arches National Park Superintendent Kate Cannon recently said that she is looking to keep OHVs out of the park by convincing Jenkins and others of the importance of existing policy, and Tuesday’s meeting made clear where local officials stand.

One of Moab’s federal representatives, U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R-Provo, has said that he is looking to relay his constituents’ sentiment to officials at the Department of the Interior on the matter. Although Moab’s elected officials are clear, he maintains that a consensus on the issue is still needed.

Curtis: No progress ‘until consensus has been reached’

The same day Cannon announced her wish to keep OHVs out of the parks, Curtis said that he would use his own influence on the matter if local officials formed a consensus around the issue.

“To the extent that there could be a resolution from the counties or the cities or both, that is a very, very powerful tool,” Curtis told local and regional officials last week. “If I’m going to have any influence with Kate [Cannon’s] boss, or Kate’s boss’s boss’s boss, that is a really powerful tool for me and also gives me, a little bit, the authority to speak on your behalf instead of just guessing where the consensus is.”

Although the county and city have now both passed a resolution on the matter, Curtis’ plan forward for lobbying about it seems unclear, at least for the time being.

A spokesperson for the representative said after Moab, Castle Valley and Grand passed the joint resolution that Curtis “feels that progress cannot be made until consensus has been reached,” and that he will relay messages from both sides of the matter to officials at the Department of the Interior, which oversees the National Park Service’s operations.

Lacking from the consensus are elected officials from San Juan County, host of a large portion of Canyonlands National Park, home of multiple national monuments and a constituent of Utah’s 3rd Congressional District, which Curtis represents. According to Clapper, the short timeline on the matter – Jenkins scheduled the rule to go into effect Nov. 1 when he sent out the order on Sept. 24 – prevented Grand officials from involving San Juan officials in Tuesday’s joint meeting.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the San Juan County Commission is Nov. 5.

“Daily, [Curtis] hears from both locally-elected officials and constituents who hold contrasting opinions in regards to public lands management,” a spokesperson for Curtis said. “He will continue to pass these differing viewpoints along to the Department of the Interior and work with various entities on both the federal, state, and local levels who have stewardship over the area.”

The meeting Tuesday ended after the Grand County Council’s 5-0 vote, the Moab City Council’s 3-0 vote and the Town Council of Castle Valley voted 3-0, all resolving to “oppose allowing ATV/UTV/OHVs to travel roads in the National Parks and Monuments located in the Southeast Utah Group because such use is incompatible with resource and wildlife protection.”

Note: This story has been changed to clarify Cannon’s position on the OHV matter. She said that she hopes to keep OHVs out of the parks but that she would follow Jenkins’ order if it is not rescinded or changed by its effective date, Nov. 1.