For Immediate Release: December 26, 2006

Contacts:  
Liz Thomas, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (435) 259-5440
Vaughn Hadenfeldt, owner of Far Out Expeditions, Bluff  (435) 672-2290
Mark Maryboy, Navajo Tribal Councilman, Montezuma Creek (435) 651-3223


Coalition of  Business Owners, Native Americans and Conservationists File Petition to Protect Arch Canyon

Archaeology and Riparian Area Threatened by Off-Road Vehicles


SALT LAKE CITY:  A broad coalition of organizations, Navajo Tribal leaders, and local business owners has filed a special petition asking the Bureau of Land Management to protect immediately a remote canyon in southeastern Utah’s Cedar Mesa region.  Arch Canyon, lying just to the west of well-known Comb Ridge, is rich in archaeological sites and is a rare riparian area, yet is threatened by ongoing and increasing use by off-road vehicles.

To date, BLM has rejected less formal requests to protect the area, and has even encouraged such use with the recent placement of trail signs.  Documents obtained by SUWA through the Freedom of Information Act show the BLM is leaning toward allowing an event known as the Jeep Jamboree to take place in the canyon this spring, even though it denied a permit in 2004 (the event took place anyway, led by San Juan County Commissioner and Utah Public Land Policy Coordinating Office chief Lynn Stevens.)

Mark Maryboy, Navajo Councilman and former San Juan County Commissioner, states that Arch Canyon, at the base of the Abajo Mountains, is important to the Navajo people. “Preservation of these lands is important to our culture and spiritual values.  The rocks and plants are considered living organisms that help balance the world and make life possible.  Arch Canyon should not be sacrificed by the damaging effects of ORV use.”

The petition is supported by both fieldwork and reports completed by a professional archaeologist and a biologist (reports available below).  Both recommended that the BLM protect the canyon immediately from ORV damage.

For example, the archaeology report describes a canyon that provided shelter, water and rich farmland to ancient inhabitants, “resulting in spectacular architectural remains.”  Yet the BLM has failed to protect and manage this special area.  Notably, the BLM has not investigated Arch Canyon to determine the extent and types of archeological resources it manages and has little or no idea how many sites are there. The report concludes that the sites in Arch Canyon “will continue to deteriorate without an aggressive management plan that includes public outreach, limitations on vehicular access, site stabilization and better [visitor] management.”

Similarly, the biologist retained to study the canyon found a unique and rare riparian area at increasing risk by ORVs, and which will continue spiraling in a downward trend if BLM does not exclude vehicles.  The report documents soil erosion, degraded water quality, loss of wildlife habitat and the creation of channels in wheel ruts, which result in scouring of the floodplain and streambed.  In addition, several species of fish are found in the canyon, including one state sensitive species perhaps a unique that has been separated from larger populations for possibly millions of years.

Liz Thomas notes, “Riparian areas amount for about 1% of Utah’s public lands, yet provide 75-80% of all wildlife habitat.  Not surprisingly, special regulations provide for their protection.  Yet BLM has not fulfilled its duty to protect Arch Canyon.  We’re simply asking the BLM to comply with the law and protect this wonderful, special place.”

Vaughn Hadenfeldt, owner of Far Out Expeditions in Bluff guides tours to educate visitors on the significance of the Ancestral Puebloan cultural heritage left behind in southern Utah’s canyon country  “ORVs are increasingly out of control here, and the BLM is failing time and again to address this problem.  Our local businesses rely on the beauty and remoteness of the landscapes.  Excessive ORV use in places like Arch Canyon is killing the goose that laid the golden egg.”

SUWA’s Petition to Preserve Arch Canyon’s Natural and Cultural Heritage echoes concerns raised by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in its report issued in Summer 2006.  The report found that only 6% of the nation’s public lands have been inventoried for cultural resources.  The vast majority of cultural resources on public lands have not been recorded, and pages of history of the southwest’s ancient civilizations are being irreparably lost with each passing year.

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