This week, we have some long-overdue but welcome news to report from the front lines of the battle against off-road vehicle destruction in southeast Utah.
After dragging its feet for nearly two years, the Monticello Bureau of Land Management has temporarily closed Recapture Wash in southeast Utah to off-road vehicles, due to the damage to cultural resources resulting from ORV use. The effect of the closure, however, remains to be seen.
After an illegally constructed ORV route was discovered in the canyon two years ago, conservation groups and concerned local residents requested that BLM close the illegally constructed route and take action to protect the cultural resources in the canyon, including a diverse array of dwellings and artifacts spanning a vast period of habitation. All of the sites in the canyon which have been surveyed are elligible for listing on the National Register of Historical Places. Eventually, in January of ’07, BLM’s own contract archeologist reported that several archaeological sites were being directly impacted by the illegally constructed route in the canyon, and that other sites were at risk of damage due to the illegal route.
Jerry Spangler, Executive Director, Colorado Plateau Archaeological Alliance, has documented the connection between looting of archaeological sites and ORV access. “Any time you open up areas for motorized access, you open up areas for mischief” Spangler says, “Archaeological sites become more vulnerable from illegal and inappropriate activities associated with ORVs, whether intentional or inadvertent.”
This closure is a very positive step for the BLM, and thanks is due to the Monticello BLM for taking action, even if it was a little slow in coming.
The Interim Closure is, however, just a first step toward protection of this priceless national resource, and we will continue to keep a close eye on the situation. Serious enforcement and meaningful penalties are the only things that will make this closure "stick", and we hope the BLM is prepared to provide them.
Please send an email to Nick Sandberg, Acting Manager, Monticello BLM and Selma Sierra, Utah State BLM Director thanking BLM for making the decision to close Recapture Canyon to protect the unique cultural resources from further damage from off-road vehicle use, as the agency is receiving pressure from the county and ORV-activists to re- open part or all of the canyon to ORV use. You can send your emails to: Nick_Sandberg@blm.gov and Selma_Sierra@blm.gov
SUWA is pleased to have had a part in this action, but a special thanks is due to the locals in San Juan County, including the members of the Canyon Country Heritage Association, who passionately advocated for this special place; “Great Old broads for Wilderness” for continuing to monitor and comment upon the unauthorized trail. And to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, for their ongoing work in Recapture Canyon.