With the release of the Emery County Land Council Statement last month in the Sun Advocate (Dec. 5) I would like to repeat some of what the council released and also how I feel about those statements.
Emery County is experiencing unprecedented use of motor vehicles on federal, state and private lands within and adjacent to the county. Both legal and illegal activity is impacting resources and other users, and the ever increasing numbers of both legal and illegal users is escalating those impacts.
Legal and illegal activity on public and private land is escalating impacts to resources and other users. So that means more people using and visiting the land equals more impacts. Seems logical to me. Thus we have the need for management.
Recent heavy rain and snow this fall when hunters typically are in the field at high elevations made otherwise normal and acceptable activity devastating to the saturated roads and camping areas. Commissioner Gary Kofford, also a Public Lands Council member, told the group that "in some areas, where the existing road was intended to be 15 feet wide, the drivers were avoiding mud holes and ruts and creating roads 50 feet wide or more." As the hunters access their favorite dispersed camping sites on short roads adjacent to the main roads, much more extensive rutting takes place. Loss of vegetation and increased siltation in reservoirs will result.
Rain and snow that was just in time for the annual hunting seasons created saturated roads and camping areas. Hunters go to the places they've always gone and in the process widen the roads in order to avoid mud holes and ruts. The results? More people using and then hunting on the muddy roads equals more impacts. Seems logical. Thus the need for management. Perhaps the forest service or Emery County should have closed the main road onto the forest until the roads were dry? Then again, does anyone expect to have dry roads during the hunting season?
Increased numbers of vehicles has required changes in maintenance activity on existing roads. Native surfaced or minimally graveled roads that were adequate in the past will no longer hold up to the volume of traffic. Grading the road surface periodically simply doesn't do the job. Emery County annually treats nearly 100 miles of road with products which enhance compaction and inhibits dust. An agreement with the USFS allows the county road department to perform this same maintenance on approximately 20 miles of forest service roads.
Here we're talking about county, forest service and Bureau of Land Management system roads. You know, the ones that Emery officials encourage tourists to travel while they visit the "Spectacular San Rafael" and who hopefully spend some dollars while in Emery County. The results? More tourists coming to visit Emery County, driving low clearance-highway vehicles, requiring the roads be in better condition equal financial impacts to Emery County and an overwhelming workload in order to provide what the tourist needs. The county says "Promote it and they will come to see it." So, Emery County, do you want the Subaru and Winnebago crowd or not?
Although technological advancement in maintenance makes for improved travel, it also allows for more vehicles to gain access to more off-the-beaten path localities. Thirty years ago the typical vehicle which was used to drive to the Swinging Bridge or to Skyline Drive was probably the pickup truck. Today one may encounter several low clearance sedans on the same roads. State highway 31 which is paved and open year round, and the recently reconstructed Ephraim Canyon road provide quick and easy access to the Manti LaSal Forest and are highly promoted along the Wasatch Front. More and more visitors are discovering the San Rafael Swell and its magnificent attractions. Big game hunting seasons begin in August and extends to mid-winter. The use of off-highway vehicles in Utah grew approximately 195 percent between 1998 and 2005 (Utah Motor Vehicle Division 2006). Clearly, motorized use will continue to increase.
Again, Emery County promotes it's "magnificent attractions" to people throughout the world and now has to deal with the fact that some of those people are coming to see what all the fuss is about. The forest service, UDOT, Emery County, etc. have made decisions to improve the safety and travel upon it's roadways and now there are more vehicles able to travel "quickly and easily" upon those improved roads. The Division of Wildlife Resources sets the hunting seasons and yes, many more people are enjoying the use of off-highway vehicles in Utah during 2006 than were doing so just a few years ago.
The result is that more people are enjoying their public lands through sight-seeing, exploring, hunting or general OHV use. Emery County must make a decision. Do you want tourists (no matter what their reason for coming) or not? People create impacts. It doesn't matter if they got here in a Subaru, Winnebago or OHV. It's the human that creates the impact.
Several elements compound the issue of impacts to our lands, one of which is the relatively recent activity of gas and oil exploration and development. At present, activity has been confined somewhat to the pinion and juniper benches, mostly on SITLA lands. Recent lease sales indicate that other areas may soon be affected both on the high elevation of the forest and also on BLM lands of our desert areas. Emery County requires an encroachment permit for any activity which affects county roads above the normal activity level, so heavy truck traffic by industry can be monitored and regulated. On non-county roads the impacts are not so easily addressed.
Every citizen of this county, state and nation requires natural resources to sustain the quality of life that we are blessed with. Gas and oil exploration and development is critical to that high and expected quality of life. Each land management agency has authority to regulate the activity upon their administered land. "Non-County Roads" certainly fall under the authority of some state or federal agency, thus impacts should be easily addressed by those agencies.
An incident involving a local cattleman serves as an indicator of how co-users affect one another. Historically, the cattleman was permitted to graze livestock on SITLA property and except for an occasional rabbit hunter was the sole user of the area. In the last 10 or so years things have changed. OHV activity has exploded, and a coal bed methane developer has punched several wells on the property with more planned. OHV advocates came to the public lands council seeking support for a trail through the area. When the cattleman was asked what he thought of the trail he asked that the users commit to close the gates behind them, a common courtesy widely adhered to in the rural west. Following the grazing season the public lands director contacted the rancher and enquired about any conflicts. He was told by the rancher that he'd "just had to give it up and brought the cattle home early because he was unable to keep them in the pasture." Asked if he had seen the OHV riders who'd left the gates down he stated it wasn't the four wheeler people causing the problem, it was the gas company truck drivers running over the gate posts. The gates were immediately replaced by the developer with wide cattle guards and sturdy posts. New activity by new users brings new conflict with historic users.
"Historically"? Well, I guess it depends on how far back into history we want to go doesn't it? Historically, the Indians had everything to themselves. Obviously things have changed and will continue to change. SITLA property doesn't belong to "the cattleman who is permitted to graze livestock" there. Frustrations over changes is very difficult to mitigate. Change is inevitable and especially true with public lands. The problem with people not closing gates, or people being ignorant, or people being intolerant, or people being rude, or people being belligerent are all "people" problems. To assign guilt based on the type, size or color of the vehicle they drive is unfair. Education and enforcement is the solution. Seems that industrial activity that is permitted and regulated would be the easiest to monitor and mediate. There is a formal chain of command with the industry users and problems with certain employees could be quickly and easily addressed. Just because an activity or user is labeled as "new", shouldn't disqualify the activity or user from access to public lands. Again, "historic user" is a status that shouldn't promote one person's activities over others.
Another incident which took place this season involved cattle and vehicles and their simultaneous use of a road. The Link Canyon Road, also know as Wildcat, is the only route which accommodates the trailing of cattle on and off the forest service grazing pastures on that part of the forest. This fall, as the herders were bringing the cattle off the mountain, an impatient motorist ignored pleas from the herders to go slow and subsequently pressed the animals to the extent that two calves were actually pushed off the road and over a ledge, breaking some legs and requiring them to be destroyed.
"Cattle and vehicles" and "impatient motorist" seem to indicate that this conflict involved a full-sized vehicle? If so, why wasn't that made clear in the release? Instead, you have chosen to insinuate that this "conflict" is something new. Perhaps it is because of the many "new users, enjoying "new" activities on public roads and land.
The final element that compounds impact to the land is illegal motorized activity. Illegal activity, whether perpetrated by hunters, fishermen, grazers, OHV enthusiasts riding motorcycles, four-wheelers, mud-boggers, cattle truck or the family car, is probably the most challenging element to get a handle on. Mesia Nyman, ranger on the Price/Ferron Ranger District of the Manti LaSal National Forest has asked the public lands council for advice about how to address illegal use. Following the Memorial Day weekend in May and also the Fourth of July weekend, she expressed frustration with both the numbers of OHVs and the areas the users were accessing. "We have four-wheelers everywhere" on the popular, long weekends she said. Cross country travel is prohibited both on USFS and BLM administrated lands and motorized travel is acceptable only on established trails and roads. "I don't know what the answer is, what can the council recommend?" Direction given by the council has been to educate and enforce.
"Illegal motorized activity, whether perpetrated by hunters, fishermen, grazers, OHV enthusiasts riding motorcycles, four-wheelers, mud-boggers, cattle truck or the family car, is probably the most challenging element to get a handle on."
So now we are to the meat of the issue. The question is how do we enforce laws and impose fines that will deter a person from breaking the law? The answer is in education. There are still far too many users (of all types) that don't know that they can no longer do the things that they "historically" were able to do.
Cattlemen seem to think that as long as they are "working" then they are exempt from the regulations. Hunters seem to think that as long as they are "retrieving" animals that they are exempt from the regulations. Campers seem to think that as long as they are just going to a camp spot, that they are exempt from the regulations. OHV enthusiasts seems to think that (since there are already tracks on the ground and obviously others are driving on a particular trail or road), it must be a legal trail or road.
The general public seems to think that what they do is justified, but what the "other guy" does is wrong and the "other guy" must be stopped because the "other guy" is creating damage. In terms of enforcement there are too few officers available to enforce the travel restrictions, hunting restrictions, grazing restrictions, camping restrictions, etc. on their own. So, it is up to users (of all types) to police themselves.
I believe that the majority of users of public lands truly do care about the land and want to do the right thing. Carbon County (CCOHVA) and Emery County (SEUOHV) each have successful OHV clubs comprised of dedicated volunteers who donate thousands of hours and dollars towards education and enhancement of OHV opportunities on public lands. There is a newly formed Back Country Horseman chapter in the Carbon and Emery area which is doing the same for saddle-stock activities.
The King Crawlers is an active, and informed club for rock-crawling enthusiasts in the Carbon and Emery area. Sportsman for Wildlife is a group of dedicated sportsmen that has provided much help to the DWR in addressing issues affecting hunting and fishing throughout Utah.
The families and individuals who make up these groups are concerned and involved in the issues that concern land managers and local government officials. These individuals and their organizations have been and continue to be part of the solution and encourage all other users to do the same. It's been said that if you "aren't part of the solution, you might be part of the problem."
Therefore, I encourage everyone to pick a group, a club or organization that represents your interests, and to join, participate and to donate to it.
Alan J. Peterson is a member of: CCOHVA, SEUOHV, the Sage Riders Motorcycle Club UTMA, USA-ALL, the AMA, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, MECCA, GRMA and the NRA.