Sunday, May 04, 2014

Tensions rising over public land use in Utah, the West

By Brian Maffly and Kristen Moulton

Recapture Creek wanders below cliff faces that once sheltered hundreds of Americans Indians in homes built from the stones, dirt and plants found in this rugged canyon. Fragments of pottery and less visible burial sites and middens scatter the ground.

Engineering beavers have formed ponds that ducks and other waterfowl troll for delectable invertebrates. A heron takes flight on broad blue wings rather than waiting to see whether visitors are a threat.

And cut through the pinyon and juniper trees is a trail hewn a decade ago by southeastern Utah residents who enjoyed ATV rides through the canyon bottom. 

Today, the 7-mile-long canyon is the latest flash point in an ever-simmering conflict between rural Utahns and a federal government that decides what happens on the public lands that locals consider their backyards and, often, their livelihoods. 

The Bureau of Land Management closed Recapture Canyon to motorized use in 2007, but this Saturday, the rumble of engines will once again reverberate off its walls if ATV enthusiasts defy BLM warnings that riders could face prosecution. San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lyman, a Blanding accountant, says the planned ride aims to assert county jurisdiction in the face of federal "overreach."

In rural corners around the West, local officials and ranchers are threatening to flout federal authority, often with moral support and legal cover from state leaders. Suction dredge gold miners angry at the Environmental Protection Agency plan acts of civil disobedience on Idaho’s Salmon River.

Iron and Beaver county commissions have threatened to round up federally protected wild horses to protect Utah’s drought-stricken range. Angst over a possible national monument that could be designated by a lame-duck president with the stroke of a pen is rippling through central and southern Utah.

Fueling the mood: perceived weakness at the BLM, which abandoned a court-ordered cattle roundup in Nevada last month. When armed protesters showed up to support rancher Cliven Bundy, the BLM defused the situation by turning Bundy’s cows loose and walking away.

The support seen for Bundy’s defiance, even though he was so clearly outside the law, shows "rightly or wrongly, the BLM does not have the faith and goodwill of the general populace," says Mark Ward, policy analyst for the Utah Association of Counties.

1 comment:

Food for Thought said...

I agree the wild horses need to be rounded up and managed, managed just like any other ungulate. Wild horses hold Americans captive, but they are starving and destroy lands that can not sustain them which is more cruel than killing them.