I figured I would go ahead and post this due to the amount of discussion on the topic. It's from Clif Koontz from Ride with Respect. Moab gets a 'set back' in the otherwise-promising Public Lands Initiative Members of Ride with Respect know that we rarely ask you to write letters during public-comment periods. Well this is one of those exceptions, as it will affect the future of trails around Moab. The sooner the better, so please comment now! BACKGROUND: Two years ago, Representative Rob Bishop gave counties in Eastern Utah the opportunity to propose legislation that would resolve long-standing controversies on public lands, most of which are administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). This Public Lands Initiative has the potential to designate OHV recreation areas along with designating wilderness for non-mechanized use, to open new routes along with closing old ones, and to prevent future closures and national-monument proclamations by future presidents that would otherwise undermine the compromises that are currently being reached. Last year in Moab, the Grand County Council drafted a relatively-balanced proposal: http://moabtimes.com/view/full_stor...put-on-federal-lands-is-a-grand-opportunity-? The draft included paving a dirt road through the Book Cliffs, which—along with their decision to join a Seven County Infrastructure Coalition*—caused last year's election to tip the scale. The outgoing Council refrained from forwarding its proposal to Rep. Bishop, hoping that the incoming Council would honor all the other good aspects of its draft. Well, after rejecting the highway development and infrastructure coalition, the new Council has gone a few steps further, drafting significantly more losses to off-highway vehicle (OHV) riders, while reducing most of the gains: http://moabtimes.com/view/full_stor...-View-Stabilizing-the-public-lands-pendulum-? Worse, the Council treated hundreds of letters from wilderness advocates, most of whom are not Grand County residents, as if it were a poll of public opinion. That's an invitation for all of us to remind the Council that any proposal should be a net benefit for all forms of recreation, including 4WD, ATV, and even motorcycle trail riding. THE GOOD: Grand County's draft proposal includes expanding two OHV recreation areas to encompass more of the current routes and to encourage building some new ones. The White Wash / Dee Pass recreation area would fully cover trails like Enduro Loop, and allow better connection to U.S. 191. The Utah Rims recreation area would fully cover trails like Mel's Loop, and allow better connection to S.R. 128. These areas can accommodate everything from oil wells to non-motorized trails, but the point is to accommodate growth in OHV use. For this, the Council deserves our thanks. The draft proposes "No road closures" and "Allow consideration of new roads & trails" in a new National Conservation Area (NCA). Such clear objectives are necessary since NCA's are apt to be managed more for preservation. Also this NCA is proposed to spread from Castle Valley in every direction, including western Dome Plateau, Top Of The World, the northwestern La Sal Mountains, and all of Sand Flats Recreation Area. Considering its proximity to Moab, the NCA should be trimmed to a more modest size, or else changed to the more flexible "recreation area" designation, with stipulations such as no mining or drilling to conserve Moab's watershed. Nevertheless we appreciate the Council's stated commitment to OHV access in its proposed NCA. Moab's appeal lies in its diversity of recreational activities. THE BAD: Across a county that is almost two-million acres, Grand County's draft proposes to close up to one-hundred miles of primitive roads and trails, including some of the best ones we have left. ~13 miles in the Book Cliffs To designate wilderness beyond the current wilderness study areas (WSA's), the draft proposes to close spur roads such as Left Hand Tusher Canyon, which winds up a rugged canyon bottom northeast of Green River. In Grand County, this is one of the only ways to ride off of a graded road in the Book Cliffs. ~71 miles in the Dolores River area, tentative To designate wilderness from the current Westwater WSA south to Beaver Creek at the boundary with Manti-La Sal National Forest, the draft proposes to close most of the primitive roads upon more site-specific review by the Council. Although this would spare all the graded roads and a Jeep Safari route through Granite Creek, it would tentatively close high-quality OHV opportunities north of the Dolores River (in the Dolores Triangle), and south of the river (around Sevenmile, Polar, North Beaver, and South Beaver mesa's). ~15 miles around Labyrinth Canyon Citing impacts to riparian and cultural resources, the draft proposes to close Tenmile Wash from Dripping Spring all the way to the Green River. The Council doesn't seem to recognize that a lot more mitigation could be done to reduce those impacts. The opportunity to ride such a remote and scenic canyon is increasingly rare for OHV riders. Until 2010, a southern access point (west of Trail Canyon) connected to routes like Cow Freckles Trail. Still today a northern access point (called Midway) connects to trails like Dead Cow Loop. ~26 miles around Labyrinth Canyon, seasonal Citing noise impacts to river runners, the draft proposes to close Dead Cow Loop, Hey Joe Canyon, and Hell Roaring Canyon from Easter to November 1st each year. The trend toward quieter vehicles and more educated riders makes this seven-month closure excessive. This time range covers almost all river trips, including the shoulder seasons, while cutting most of the prime trail-riding seasons, which are spring and fall. These three routes do parallel the Green River for about a dozen miles. But Labyrinth Canyon is about fifty-miles long, with Stillwater Canyon offering another 50 miles immediately downriver in Canyonlands National Park. In other words, nearly 90% of this stretch is already 'road free.' THE UGLY: It's one thing to lose up to 100 miles of OHV trail, but it's another to get no security on the other 2,500. After all, security is what Rep. Bishop intended for various forms of recreation, conservation, and development interests. Grand County's draft fails to offer any form of long-term security to its remaining Class D (non-graded) roads and OHV (ATV or motorcycle) trails. Whatever form it takes, protecting trail access will still provide land managers with the flexibility to temporarily close or permanently reroute trails as needed. Nevertheless there is precedent in other legislation to protect trails just like we protect designated wilderness. The BLM's travel plan closed half the existing routes in 2008, and OHV groups are actually helping to implement that plan. The remaining routes serve as a minimum network to serve the public's interests and disperse the impacts of use. It's one thing to expand wilderness areas and create NCA's, but it's another to have that followed by a national monument, which U.S. presidents can proclaim unilaterally. The Antiquities Act was intended to help presidents act quickly when cultural resources come under threat, but it requires them to proclaim as small a monument as necessary. Further, with more and more areas receiving a special designation, new monuments ought to become smaller and less frequent. Yet the proclamations seem to get larger, such as in 1996 when Grand Staircase-Escalante claimed nearly two-million acres. Like national parks, monuments typically have OHV opportunities ranging from few to none. Grand County doesn't need the Antiquities Act to be repealed outright, but the Council ought to somehow ensure that a legislative agreement is honored by current and future presidents. INFO FROM COUNTY: The Grand County website posts several aspects of its draft plan. Management Objectives http://ut-grandcounty.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/Home/View/2934 Map http://www.sharetrails.org/uploads/PublicHearingMapPLI_201503181435216265-LR2.pdf *Near the NW end of the proposed wilderness area, Left Hand Tusher Canyon is not even shown on map. Statistics http://ut-grandcounty.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/Home/View/2933 *Note that Class A and C roads and paved, B roads are dirt but graded, and D roads are the only ones that provide OHV riders with a 'trail' type of opportunity. **Note that Jeep Safari routes, while very popular, constitute roughly one tenth of the available OHV trails and graded roads. ***Note that America's Red Rock Wilderness Act is a wish list of over 800,000 acres in Grand County, no more relevant than the wilderness acreage wished by Sagebrush Rebels, which would be 0 acres. The relevant comparison is the current WSA and designated-wilderness areas, which total less than 350,000 acres in Grand County. The draft proposal secures and expands these wilderness areas by nearly 40%. BOTTOM LINE: For every dollar available in wilderness advocacy, there's less than a penny available in OHV advocacy. Yet we are more politically significant than ever before. For legislation to succeed, it needs to offer OHV riders a net gain from the current conditions. In Grand County, the draft proposal is not any better than the BLM's current travel plan. With fewer trail closures, and more long-term security for the remaining trails, the proposal would become viable. We urge the Council to rebalance its draft so that the Public Lands Initiative can get back on track. COMMENT EFFECTIVELY: When commenting on a legislative process, don't make it 'personal' about elected officials or government administrators. Especially at the local level, these civil servants aren't getting paid much to try tackling complex issues while representing a diverse community. By the same token, do make it 'personal' about yourself. Share your experiences, your values, and your contributions through trail work or tourism spending, for example. SUPPORT OHV GROUPS: To continue recreating on public lands, it's key to have organized representation. This year alone, RwR has spent every week in three-hour county meetings, followed by personal contacts, research, etc. Meanwhile, we're keeping the trail crew running safely and effectively on projects with approval and supplies from the land managers. Combined, this advocacy and service moves our account balance like the gauge on a gas pump. Likewise, BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC) has been busy with field trips, meetings, and legal analysis. On the Public Lands Initiative, we have worked with other great groups including Moab Friends For Wheelin', Red Rock 4 Wheelers, USA-ALL, COHVCO, Colorado Trails Preservation Alliance, NOHVCC, AMA, MIC, and ARRA. Nevertheless, BRC has shown outstanding commitment thus far. COMMENT NOW: Although the comment period extends to March 31st, at that point it will be less effective, because the votes will be cast. Commenting today will give the Council members time to respond and actually fix the proposal before voting. Please write to the Grand County Council at Council@GrandCountyUtah.Net or send express mail to Grand County, Attention: Public Lands, 125 E. Center St., Moab, UT 84532.