ShareTrails | BlueRibbon Coalition Announces Appeal of BLM Canyon Rims Closures

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On May 21, 2021 The Moab Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management announced its final Record of Decision for the Canyon Rims Travel Management Area. The Canyon Rims Travel Management Area is a popular area south of Moab in San Juan County. As part of the travel planning process the BLM looked at approximately 273 miles in the area. These 273 miles create a network of 296 routes. The BLM looked at four different alternatives as updates to a plan that was challenged in Court by snit-access wilderness advocates. The BLM selected an alternative that will close 46 miles of roads and trails. The selected alternative will also close 139 routes. Closing 46% of the routes in this area is unacceptable and unnecessary. Prior to the 30 day deadline to appeal the decision, BlueRibbon Coalition appealed the decision and requested a stay of the decision.

In the map above, the routes in red and green are the ones that will be closed. In order to identify the 139 closed routes, you have to zoom in closer to see the many spurs and pull-offs that lead to scenic vistas and dispersed camping areas that will be closed.

Last week we sent our policy director, Ben Burr, to the area to evaluate on the ground the routes that are proposed for closure. Based on what he found, the outdoor recreation community should be alarmed at the BLM’s brazen and unnecessary decision to close access to routes that provide public access to spectacular viewpoints, dispersed camping sites, trails with a wide-range of technical difficulty, and RS2477 roads. The BLM’s rationale for choosing this closure-heavy alternative is paper thin, and the environmental impacts of recreation in the area are practically non-existent.

Illegal Route Closures

It is common in Utah for environmental activists to drag deadfall and rocks in front of routes to give the public the impression that the routes are closed. As usage on the routes decreases, those who want to restrict access to public land claim the routes are reclaiming and should therefore be closed. This clearly happened with routes in this area.

In addition to being illegally-closed during the planning evaluation process, (it is a misdemeanor in Utah to block a road without permission) this route is recognized by the State of Utah as a R.S. 2477 route. As such, BLM shouldn’t be closing this road through the travel management process. Utah state law prescribes the process for closing roads owned by the state and its counties. BLM must recognize “A travel management plan is not intended to provide evidence, bearing on, or address the validity of any R.S. 2477 assertions.” Closure of an R.S. 2477 route is an act that provides evidence against the validity of R.S. 2477 assertions. The State of Utah is currently litigating its claims to R.S. 2477 roads, and closures such as this will harm the State’s case. It is BlueRibbon Coalition’s position that R.S. 2477 routes should be left open through the travel management process while these claims by the State are decided in federal court. We have identified at least 12 of the 139 routes that are proposed for closure qualify as R.S. 2477 routes, and they should not be closed. Furthermore, based on the pictures included in this post, it is clear that the scenic viewpoint accessed by this road has high value for recreation. It is also clear the road still exists and isn’t reclaiming. There was also no evidence of environmental impact that would justify closure.

Disproportionate Impact to Dispersed Camping

Whether you are car camping out of your Suburu Outback, trying out a new roof-top tent on your overloading rig, committed to the #vanlife, or looking for a place to park your RV, the closure of 139 routes in this travel area is a direct assault on your ability to enjoy dispersed camping. When measured by mileage, the closure of 18% of the mileage in the area is a level of closure we would still be challenging. However, when measured by routes, we’re losing almost half of what was available previously. BLM could have selected an alternative that only closed 90 routes (still too many), but they chose this option. The high number of route closures means most of what is being closed are the short spurs and pull-offs that are the best places for dispersed camping. For an example of the quality of dispersed camping sites that are being lost, look at this photo:

We’re starting to notice increased pressure to regulate, restrict and close areas to dispersed camping. In another travel area in Utah, anti-access groups challenged a BLM decision because it simply wasn’t restrictive enough of dispersed camping. The dispersed camping camping is not nearly as organized to protect their access, and we rarely see them participating in BLM processes to keep our public lands open. We started the Dispersed Camping Access Alliance as a special project to use the knowledge, experience, and resources of BlueRibbon Coalition to protect dispersed camping, but our success will be directly proportional to the number of overlanders, RV campers, #vanlifers, and car camping enthusiasts join our effort. There are 12 other areas in Utah that are going to go through this process, and with strength in numbers we can prevent a substantial amount of unnecessary closures.

We’re the Only Ones Appealing This, But Everyone Needs to Join the Fight!

When we first reviewed the decision it was clear we would need to challenge it. We reached out to several allies to see if they would be challenging this decision as well. So far, we haven’t received any confirmation that other advocacy groups or government entities are joining us in the formal challenge to the decision. The deadline has passed, so it is likely that it will only be BRC holding the line on this legal challenge. However, we would like to acknowledge the support of Colorado Off-road Trail Defenders and CORE for consulting with us on the public comments leading to this decision. Without their on-the-ground knowledge and understanding of the area, our standing to challenge this decision is stronger.

Utah Public Lands Alliance has supported us consistently in our participation in this process. Sage Riders Motorcycle Club has also provided phenomenal support. After filing the challenge we have reached out to other groups for support, and so far we have the support from the following organizations. We want to add your organization to the list of supporters joining us in the fight to keep Canyon Rims open:

If you or you’re group/club/organization want to support us in this effort, we hope you will consider making a generous donation to the cause. We will add other organizations to the list above based on those who fill out the organization field on the donation page.

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