Red highlights new BLM off-road routes in just one of six Utah regions.
Every president scrambles to get last-minute items off their to-do
list in the final days of their administration, but the Bush
government is attacking the environment with a gusto not seen since,
well, since it took office almost eight years ago. Its promise to ease
the draconian rules on mountain biking in national parks doesn’t begin
to make up for these three crimes against nature:
At the encouragement of mining companies, the Interior Department’s Office of Surface Mining just announced
that it wants to ditch a 25-year-old protection against dumping mining
waste within 100 feet of streams or rivers. The waste is a byproduct of
mountaintop removal, a mining style that effectively decapitates peaks
in search of minerals, usually coal, and produces massive amounts of
material that have to be dumped somewhere. In the coal-mining heartland of
Appalachia, as many as 1,200 miles of streams have been buried. A
Reagan-era rule bans the practice; although the regulation has often
been ignored or not enforced, the OSM wants to eliminate it altogether.
Despite local opposition, the Forest Service is allowing a British
mining company to dig for uranium within three miles of Grand Canyon
National Park, including two exploratory forays almost within sight of
the lookout at Navajo Point. Egregious, but that’s not the late-hour
attack. Congress and the Interior secretary have emergency powers to
stop commercial development if it threatens public lands. When 20-some
members of Congress urged the Interior Department to withdraw 1 million
acres of land near the Grand Canyon from uranium exploration (but
didn’t invoke their right under the regulation to do so), Interior
Secretary Dick Kempthorne announced he’s eliminating the
emergency-powers rule. The public has been given 15 days to protest the
The worst of it is in red-rock country. In Utah, the Bureau of Land Management is about to open 2.3 million acres of pristine, wilderness-quality land to off-road vehicle recreation and oil and gas mining.
The giveaway comes via BLM’s six new “resource management plans”, which
govern the use of 11 million acres of southern Utah wildlands. Almost 3
million of those acres could be designated wilderness; Congress
requires that lands with wilderness value be labeled as Wilderness
Study Areas, which can lead to permanent protection, but BLM ignored or
overlooked these huge parcels.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Now it’s opening 85 percent of that wilderness to ATVers and the
extraction industry, neither of which has a particularly stellar
stewardship record. BLM’s plans have been blasted by the New York Times
and in a series of editorials in the Salt Lake Tribune and for good
reason. Among other things, land can only be legally declared
wilderness if it’s essentially untrammeled by man. One ORV track, legal
or otherwise, and the wilderness nature is gone.
The numbers do get a little boggling. Eleven million acres is
roughly the size of Vermont and New Hampshire. BLM is opening 17,000
miles of dirt roads to ORV use and restricting it on just 20 percent of
the land. And in the 2.3 million acres of what could be wilderness,
there will be 1,600 miles of dirt roads where not a single track exists
today. Areas affected include some of the richest archaeological sites
in the country and one of the few spots in the lower 48 where you can
find true desert solitude.
So. Still think that vote of yours doesn’t count?