July 19, 2008

Land Plan Favors OHV Trails: Conservation Groups Say Wilderness Areas Would Be Neglected Under the BLM Use Proposal

By Patty Henetz, The Salt Lake Tribune

Jul. 19--The conflict between motorized travel and quieter recreation isn't likely to subside any time soon in the Kanab region.

The U.S. Bureau of Land Management on Friday released a two-volume proposed land-use plan for 550,000 acres of public land in Kane and Garfield counties that lets stand all but 25 miles of off-highway vehicle trail mapped in a preliminary study.

"It's just kind of overkill," said Liz Thomas, an attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

The OHV trails dominate the recreation plan, leaving few places in the district where hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers can be more than 1 mile from trails or roads open to motorized travel.

Of particular concern to conservation groups is the plan's discussion of how it would manage lands considered wilderness-quality that have not been incorporated into wilderness study areas.

The organizations were pleased when the Kanab field office, under a court order, evaluated nearly 133,000 acres and found that 89,780 acres were beautiful and remote enough to be considered for wilderness study.

The final Environmental Impact Statement shows the BLM would manage about 27,000 acres for wilderness character. But the fine print says the BLM would still allow OHV travel across those acres, likely making them ineligible for future wilderness designation.

In October, a Kanab BLM outdoor recreation planner said the field office, lacking staff to develop a coherent OHV travel plan, just mapped what trails already were on the ground, including redundant routes.

Tom Christensen said the Kanab field office would depend on the public during a 90-day comment period to help refine the travel plan.

The EIS now includes a map that includes 1,478 miles of the original 1,505 miles of OHV trails proposed in the agency's preferred alternative, according to the final study. However, the draft originally proposed 1,462 miles of OHV trail -- so the new proposal actually represents an increase in OHV trail-miles.

Eight threatened or endangered animal species, including the California condor and Mexican spotted owl, are in the district, which also contains one endangered and two threatened plant species.

Unlike other BLM field districts, Kanab has little coal, oil or natural gas development.

The final EIS, open for review and protest through Aug. 18, adds a discussion of global climate change that includes the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change finding that "warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and that most of the change is human-caused.

The EIS acknowledges that wind erosion from disturbed areas and fugitive dust from roads poses threats to the snowpack that is part of Utah's water supply, but says the BLM doesn't have "an established mechanism" for further analyses.

In August, the Governmental Accountability Office recommended that the secretaries of Agriculture, Commerce, and the Interior develop ways for managers to address climate change effects on the resources they manage and gather the information needed to do so.

Five more final management plans covering 11 million acres of public land in Utah are expected to roll out in the coming weeks.

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Open to public comment

--The U.S. Bureau of Land Management's land-use plan for the Kanab District is open to public review and protest through Aug. 18.

--This proposed plan and final environmental impact study provides a framework for the management of 550,000 acres of public lands in Kane and Garfield counties. The plan, when finally adopted, will govern the region for 10 to 15 years.

--For an electronic version of the proposed plan and information on citizen involvement: blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/kanab/planning.html


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