Motorized Coalition, Environmentalists Disagree on Access Issues
In early May of this year in southern Utah’s Kane County, over 100 off-road vehicles rallied to drive up the Paria River in the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. Although the governing body, Bureau of Land Management, had clearly stated that the action was illegal, riders staging the protest contended that the BLM had no legal right to close the riverbed to off-road vehicles since it had been traveled by vehicles beginning in the wagon train days. Hence, they claimed, the riverbed was actually a “road.” Although the BLM announced that it would start enforcing a years-old ban on off-road vehicles riding in the Paria, they and Kane County law enforcement officials simply observed and made no effort to stop the ride.
Local Kane County and Kanab area outdoor enthusiasts, hikers, backpackers and environmentalists decided to band together in a peaceful counter-protest of the illegal action. Local outdoor shop owner Susan Hand rallied activist friends and sympathizers and organized a “peaceful protection picnic.” Their purpose was to merely witness the off-roading and to demonstrate that a local faction supported protection of the Paria and the Monument.
Fast forward to the Utah State Capitol in Salt Lake City, early August.
Representatives from a variety of groups meet to plan the “Take Back Utah” rally, a protest over federal rules, regulations, policies, laws and practices that they say unfairly strip Utahns of their rights of access to public lands. Protest signs and American flag waving-motorized recreation enthusiasts riding off-highway vehicles up State Street to the steps of the state Capitol told the story of the Take Back Utah rally last August 8th. Coalition member groups include the Utah Farm Bureau Federation, the Utah Wool Growers Association, the Utah Shared Access Alliance and the Utah Rural Electric Association. Organized by off-highway vehicle clubs and sponsored by a diverse group of public land users including hunters, ranchers, farmers, miners and oil and gas companies. The Salt Lake Tribune reported attendance of around 3000, short of the 10,000 organizers had hoped for.
Said State Representative Mike Noel of Kanab, “This is more than about recreation, it’s about farming and mining and keeping revenues generated by the lands of Utah. This is a beginning. We have got to be extreme in the way we take back these public lands.” Noel said he hoped the event would energize Utahns who might not have time to backpack into scenic parts of the state for two weeks but want to access public lands.
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance’s associate director Heidi McIntosh had this to say in questioning the rally’s theme, “You just have to ask: ‘take back Utah from what, exactly? Despite their rhetoric, these groups have long had access to nearly all public lands in Utah, frequently to the detriment of the long-term health of the public lands, with no long-term economic stability.”
Stay tuned for updates.