Another year, another handful of trails improved. In 2017, Ride with Respect (RwR) contributed three-and-a-half-thousand hours of quality work to public lands. Also, when land-management lawsuits came to Moab and administrative actions came to Monticello, RwR tried to promote moderation and cooperation.
With so much activity in 2017, we’ll need to raise several-thousand dollars just to start 2018 in the black. You can make tax-deductible contributions by sending a check to Ride with Respect, 395 McGill Avenue, Moab, Utah 84532.
Already we’ve had over thirty donors and a hundred volunteers. A Polaris TRAILS grant entirely funded our construction of the new Tri Tip ATV loop south of White Wash. New support also came from the Off-Road Business Association, plus long-standing support from Utah State Parks, Grand County, and the Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA) based in Colorado.
Below are seven highlights of what trail riders can accomplish when we work together.
~ Tri Tip ATV loop at Dubinky
Tenmile Point is a bit of a sand box, and the Five Miles of Whoops were severely braided. Fortunately, north of there lies a slickrock expanse where RwR constructed seven miles of 52″-wide trail that forms a loop with three prongs to connect Red Wash Road with Dead Cow Loop and the Midway access of Tenmile Canyon. For vehicles wider than 52″ to make the same connection, we marked some primitive roads as Tenmile Point 4WD route. Finally we blocked off three miles of the Five Miles Of Whoops for a net gain of four miles. We should credit the wilderness-expansion groups for not appealing the project because, even though it’s located a few miles away from Labyrinth Canyon, this proximity does require a degree of accommodation. Most of the project involved installing a couple-hundred metal signs across the slickrock so that Tri Tip doesn’t need to be painted in perpetuity. In addition to supplying these signs, the BLM provided a compressor to drill the holes. This project was also made possible by Polaris Industries.
~ campsites near Sovereign Trail
Although trails remain the focus of RwR, their immediate surroundings sometimes have issues where we can help. Particularly along Willow Spring Road, camping has become extremely popular. To start managing this use more closely, the School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration contracted RwR to fence the boundary of a dozen campsites that needed delineation. We also fenced off areas to prevent the proliferation of new sites. Finally we closed a dozen campsites that were either in the flood zone of Courthouse Wash, in a tributary wash, or in a drainage structure of the graded road. While there are still dozens of established sites available to camp in along Willow Spring Road, and dozens more along Dalton Wells and Klondike Bluffs roads, they are full during peak weeks in spring and fall. So be prepared to camp even further from Moab by following the BLM rules and minimum-impact practices:
As an alternative to remote camping, you could also pay for a place nearby, like Green River to the north or our friends at 3 Step Hideaway to the south.
~ La Sal and Abajo cattle guards
In the past decade, RwR has installed a dozen cattle guards, mostly in the La Sal and Abajo Mountains. They offer convenience for trail users and a piece of mind for ranchers that their cattle won’t be lost due to an open gate. However, cattle learned how to cross these guards, so we modified them by adding side rails, a sheet-metal base, and narrower gaps between cross rails. The 5″ gaps are narrow enough to discourage cattle but still wide enough that any cattle attempting to pass can free themselves and back out. Finally we relayed these fun lessons in physiology and psyCOWlogy to the cattle-guard manufacturer who is refining his design so that no one else has to work on these products in such remote spots.
~ Mel’s Loop reroutes SW of Rabbit Valley
Mel’s loop is somewhat isolated from the trail system of Utah Rims along the Colorado border. Across the Westwater boat-ramp road, riders had been connecting from Utah Rims to Mel’s Loop via Westwater Wash, which is a riparian corridor for wildlife. RwR routed riders away from the wash to the new South Link singletrack along a rim to reach Mel’s Loop. Further southwest, where Mel’s Loop crossed private property, the owner generously assisted RwR in rerouting closer to the railroad tracks. Although the new route is loose, it will compact somewhat over the seasons, and will make Mel’s loop a couple miles longer. In fact, the BLM graciously permitted RwR to construct singletrack parallel to Kokopelli’s Trail rather than simply following the doubletrack. In this way, the new part of Mel’s Loop and South Link could be used by motorcyclists and bicyclists who seek a more challenging version of Kokopelli’s Trail. Special thanks to the Buzzards MC, the Bookcliff Rattlers MC, and especially to the MTRA of Grand Junction for recruiting a total of 52 volunteer days!
~ Tread Lightly’s “Respect and Protect” campaign
To include OHV riders in its campaign about preserving cultural resources, Tread Lightly invited RwR to its video shoot in Sego Canyon:
RwR suggested the locations and provided riders for Tread Lightly to film. We think the video turned out well, conveying the valuable and irreplaceable nature of archaeological and paleontological sites. We commend Tread Lightly for incorporating local OHV groups into its educational products. Over the last few years, Tread Lightly has strengthened its staff to start reaching an OHV audience more effectively. It’s our job as riders to help distribute responsible-riding materials consistently, whether it’s coming from Tread Lightly, NOHVCC, or Stay The Trail Colorado. Remember that education is a little cheaper than trail work and a lot cheaper than law enforcement, although all of these tools are key ingredients. The surge in side-by-sides brings more people and, in particular, more people who are new to the backcountry. Let’s spread the riding ethic to conserve access, not mention conserving the land, itself!
~ settlement of BLM resource management plans
RwR proudly assisted BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) to create a path forward for the resource management plans (RMP’s) that govern BLM land across the southeast half of Utah. Along with the TPA and COHVCO, BRC intervened in the case, and thoroughly consulted a few key OHV advocates statewide. Together we ensured a fighting chance to maintain equitable access of public lands. BRC’s press release includes links to the settlement:
A decade ago, most BLM land was completely open to motorized travel anywhere. RMP revisions limited OHV riding to designated routes, and their new travel plans closed half of the existing 4WD, ATV, and motorcycle trails. Although this loss of access was a tough pill to swallow, RwR has spent several-thousand hours helping BLM implement and refine its travel plans. Meanwhile, wilderness-expansion groups sued the BLM for not restricting OHV’s and other uses even further. Although the court ruled in favor of the BLM on most counts, it ruled adversely on a few others, primarily because BLM didn’t sufficiently document the evidence and rationale for its otherwise-reasonable decisions.
This ruling forced BLM to hemorrhage millions of dollars (e.g. paying archaeologists to survey every designated route by foot, even old mining roads) in order to keep its routes open. With the appeal process stalled, and the settlement process open to intervenors like OHV groups along with the state and counties, we tried turning lemons into lemonade. Draft after draft, BRC et al. proposed changes not only to benefit public access, but also to allow for effective management. The wilderness-expansion groups wisely accepted a couple dozen meaningful revisions, earning our support of the final agreement.
Although the final agreement was unsuccessfully challenged by the state and counties, it doesn’t diminish their role during the implementation of this settlement. In fact, recently BRC et al. consulted the affected counties when commenting on areas that BLM must reconsider for ACEC evaluation as part of the settlement. The settlement requires BLM to do more analysis, but it doesn’t dictate a decision. The settlement makes BLM’s procedures more cumbersome for the six affected RMP’s, but it doesn’t set precedent for subsequent RMP’s or other field offices. These procedures may not be a model of pragmatic management, but under the circumstances, they are a prudent compromise. Most of all, the settlement fully vacates the court’s previous ruling against BLM, so the agency is no longer forced to choose between immediate closure or immediate archaeological survey for every mile of route on its travel plans.
What does all of this mean for OHV riders? Basically the BLM must redo half of its travel plans, and it’s the “good” half, which includes Labyrinth Rims (i.e. all the trail between Moab and Green River), the San Rafael Swell, Factory Butte, and Hog Canyon (see PDF pages 37-43 of agreement). These areas have different deadlines, ranging from two years to eight years (see PDF pages 7-8 of agreement). We stand to lose hundreds of trails, but if we step up to the plate, we could keep the vast majority of trails and even add news ones (whether previously-closed trails or better-yet brand new ones with proper design). The wilderness-expansion groups are banking on the redo resulting in many trail closures, but most of the trail access can be defended again, and we should think outside the box for new trails (especially to improve the connectivity of current trail systems).
As you can imagine, the next few years will take all hands on deck, from local clubs to state and national organizations. Primarily we can help BLM with this larger workload by inventorying the routes and monitoring the conditions. We need to obtain inventory data from the BLM and counties, then GPS any routes that they missed. An incomplete inventory is the kiss of death for a travel plan, and BLM may refuse to accept route data later on in the process, so the time to GPS routes is now. Keep in mind that the current travel rules are still in effect, so obtain BLM travel maps (available from BLM and some county-tourism websites), and stay on designated routes when traveling by vehicle.
Signing a settlement with traditional adversaries is no one’s idea of a good time, but we appreciate BRC et al. for soliciting RwR’s input. This experience gave us confidence that they made the right call.
~ Bears Ears National Monument
Across the nation, politics seems to be getting more melodramatic, and the two million acres from Moab down to Mexican Hat was no exception. RwR has done a couple-thousand hours of trail work there, mainly on the northeast side of the Abajo Mountains, where there are few significant archaeological sites, and where motorcycle and non-motorized trail users seem to appreciate our contribution.
The area is already “protected” to varying degrees, and after three years of developing a comprehensive land-use bill, in 2016 the Utah Public Lands Initiative (UPLI) was poised to “protect” the area even further, along with a stronger Native American influence on management of the area, and modest assurances to secure recreational access and other land uses where appropriate. Despite offering a quadruple “win,” wilderness-expansion groups rejected any compromise in favor of unilateral action. Unfortunately most mainstream conservation groups went along, which convinced the majority of Congress to discard the PLI rather than refining it. For details, please see RwR’s 2016 year in review:
As promised, after election season had passed, the Obama administration proclaimed a 1.35 million-acres of BLM and USFS land as Bears Ears National Monument (BENM). The boundary generally followed a couple NCA’s proposed by the UPLI, but the proclamation included none of the measures to conserve OHV access, let alone any of the other OHV assurances that the UPLI had offered beyond its NCA’s. The monument offered no substantial increase for Native American influence, and it reduced the influence of local residents and elected officials who are most affected. Most of all, the monument went beyond the Antiquities Act authority to proclaim monuments, “the limits of which in all cases shall be confined to the smallest area compatible with proper care and management of the objects to be protected.” The 1.35 million-acre BENM covered many areas without significant cultural sites and many areas with significant OHV trails, including some of the motorized singletrack and ATV trails that RwR has cared for. This proclamation was an enormous setback for the resolution of many issues on public lands.
Fortunately the new Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, reviewed all of the really-large national monuments proclaimed within the last two decades. Having spent twenty-million dollars campaigning for BENM, wilderness-expansion groups then campaigned to misinform the public about this review process. To clear things up, RwR’s executive director wrote his personal perspective for the American Motorcyclist Association:
Unlike our previous Interior secretary, the new one provided a formal public-input period to give every American the opportunity to submit comments that would be documented, and RwR participated. Predictably, the vast majority of comments opposed scaling back the most controversial monuments, but the vast majority of them were based upon several false premises. Secretary Zinke listened to reason over volume when recommending that BENM be scaled back while urging Congress to actually increase Native American influence and actually increase archaeological preservation through budgetary support.
On December 4th, the Trump administration shrunk BENM to 200,000 acres, comprised of two main units called Indian Creek and Shash Jaa, which is Navajo for Bears Ears. The majority of excluded acreage is already “protected” through other designations. These other protections include several wilderness study areas, as shown on this map:
The map does not show additional designations, such as Valley Of The Gods, which is currently “protected” as an Area Of Critical Environmental Concern. Beyond all of these designations, what little acreage is left simply doesn’t warrant the sort of emergency action that monument proclamations were intended to be.
Since the 200,000-acre BENM focuses on areas that weren’t already “protected,” it certainly encompasses valuable OHV trails that are in jeopardy of closure when management plans are approved for the monument within about five years. In the Shash Jaa unit are 4WD trails like Texas Flat and Hotel Rock. In the Indian Creek Unit are motorized singletracks like Shay Mountain and Indian Creek leading up to the USFS trail system. These routes provide outstanding OHV opportunities and key connectivity, but RwR is willing to resolve any new management issues by doing trail work or even rerouting as needed. Unlike the overwhelming nature of a 1.35 million-acre BENM, the current Shash Jaa and Indian Creek units are concentrated enough that we can adapt. They still might constrain OHV riding, but not constrict it completely, RwR is willing to work in good faith to help protect the monument’s resources for all visitors.
More myths about the 200,000-acre BENM are dispelled in the infamous Zephyr, which advocates expanding wilderness designations yet critiques the tactics of wilderness-expansion groups that have emerged over the last couple decades:
Most members of the public haven’t even heard these myth busters, so they don’t even question claims that scaling back BENM would harm antiquities, harm natural resources, and—get this—harm recreational access. While it is theoretically possible for a monument proclamation to bolster recreational access, the 1.35 million-acre BENM didn’t do so. On public lands, there’s an inherent tension between preservation versus access, and we can certainly debate the right balance point. But we can’t debate the fact that “protected” areas have traditionally reduced access. To claim otherwise is to one-up George Orwell on doublespeak.
Another Zephyr article highlights the need for more law enforcement to protect archaeological resources:
We agree, and point out that actively managing recreation is another key ingredient, which is often relatively inexpensive and effective. After all, in the Twenty-first Century, deliberate looting is far less common while inadvertent impacts are far more common, as recreation use grows. As RwR has proven in partnership with federal and state agencies, most activities can be managed well with thoughtful planning and thorough implementation. Plus, putting recreation technicians out there in the field provides a management presence. This realization is shared by most people who spend time on the land, yet it gets lost when polarization escalates into a turf war. Reestablishing a middle ground may help to identify common solutions on the ground.
U.S. Representative John Curtis has taken a stab at resolution by introducing a bill covering the 200,000-acre BENM to increase (a) law enforcement, (b) funding that could cover recreation management, and (c) Native American influence actual decision-making rather than mere consultation. It would also effectively ban mining over the 1.35 million-acre area previously proclaimed as BENM. He’ll have an uphill battle, as some on both sides prefer to let litigation play out. However it could take years for the courts to truly settle whether either of the administrative actions—proclaiming a 1.35 million-acre BENM or subsequently scaling it back—were legal in the first place. Regardless of the outcome, the scaling back gives mega-monument advocates a taste of what it’s like to be on the receiving end of sweeping administrative action:
It’s only a taste because scaling back BENM leaves only a small chance that the 1.35 million-acre area would be developed imprudently, whereas implementing a 1.35 million-acre BENM leaves a large chance that the best OHV trails would be closed, not to mention all the other BLM and USFS land at risk of monument proclamation every four to eight years. That risk has risen exponentially since passage of the Antiquities Act in 1906, as monument proclamations have proliferated despite that there’s less and less land not already “protected,” not to mention that all federal lands have become more restricted with each passing decade.
Even if the judicial branch rejects the executive scaling back of BENM, it’s in everyone’s interest to reform the Antiquities Act legislatively. Only through this reform will multiple-use and access advocates take interest in compromise because they would know that such an agreement couldn’t be trumped by another mega-monument. In the absence of our modern laws and agencies, the Antiquities Act was designed for emergency action to protect archaeological sites. Now it’s being used overtly to protect “cultural landscapes” and covertly to break the promises of FLPMA, the organic act of the modern BLM. When the federal government reversed its policy of selling BLM land to a policy of “retention” in 1976, it promised to ensure local input and an inclusive form of conservation through several measures:
These pillars have steadily eroded and are on the brink of crumbling if the mega-monument trend is not reigned in. Inclusive conservation matters because it allows people to use and connect with the land in their own way without encroaching on another’s right to do the same. Local input matters because nearby residents have a greater stake and are more familiar with their surroundings than the average person living a thousand miles away.
For example, a million-acre monument campaign sounds great from a distance because it is viewed in the abstract, so “the more land, the better.” In fact, though, it wouldn’t create more land. The proposed boundaries encompass existing places with existing uses that would be displaced or, without alternative locations, simply extinguished. Applying the name Bears Ears to everything that’s west of U.S. 191 and southeast of Canyonlands / Glen Canyon NRA down to the edge of the Navajo reservation would make sense to anyone looking at the area from a map of U.S. highways. It makes less sense to people looking at the area from their backyards. That’s why the Bears Ears campaign was less effective in San Juan County despite saturating social media, traditional outlets, and outdoor-clothing catalogs. Yet the campaign succeeded in persuading the only person needed, and that is the person who signed the proclamation. So you can understand the local impulse to transfer federal lands into state hands. However, the land-transfer movement would be rendered moot by simply honoring the intent of the Antiquities Act, FLPMA, and the balance between state and federal government.
At first blush, this allusion to federalism might sound like geographic tribalism, which former president Bill Clinton recently warned against:
He writes “All too often, tribalism based on race, religion, sexual identity and place of birth has replaced inclusive nationalism in which you can be proud of your tribe and still embrace the larger American community.” Indeed, combining this tribal diversity with a common thread of national identity creates a sort of Venn diagram of links that strengthen our society. He continues “Twenty-five years ago, when I was elected president, I said that every American should follow our Constitutional framers’ command to form a more perfect union, to constantly expand the definition of ‘us’ and shrink the definition of ‘them.’ I still believe that. Because I do, I favor policies that promote cooperation over conflict and build an economy, a society and a politics of addition not subtraction, multiplication not division.”
Let’s apply this ideal to President Clinton’s proclamation of a 1.88 million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument (GSENM) in 1996. Most states have very little federal land within their borders, and they hold a majority in Washington, D.C. In contrast, Utah is comprised primarily of federal lands, and this kind of state is the minority. In effect, not only is Utah’s influence diminished in its own state, but also in D.C. In other words, non-federally dominated states have the most influence within their own borders AND within the borders of federally dominated states. If the non-federally dominated states were exposed to an overreach of the Antiquities Act, the law would be reformed in a New York minute. This disparity between states was only furthered by President Clinton’s proclamation of GSENM. In theory it benefited the nation, but in practice, it benefited the non-federally dominated states. It had a guise of nationalism, but an effect of tribalism. Over twenty years later, perhaps President Clinton will realize that ensuring a more equal footing for states like Utah would be the way to form a more perfect union.
These days, self-reflection is more scarce than antiquities, which makes it refreshing to see another Zephyr article about “standing in the other man’s shoes”:
While this level of candor has alienated the editor from wilderness-expansion groups, it’s courageous, and desperately needed among the shrinking field of journalism (which compels us to pay for content from the Zephyr and High Country News to Range Magazine or something in between). While his first 500 words poignantly summarize how we wound up with a BENM, the subsequent 5,000 words explore his own role in the current dysfunction, and therein lies the recipe for resolution. If politicians, lobbyists, and ordinary citizens followed this trail, where would it lead?
Meanwhile, on the literal trails, RwR will continue to focus on maintenance and education with great appreciation for our supporters, partners, and the public lands.