Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Deciphering protections inside Bears Ears monument designation

When Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced a preliminary recommendation that contemplates shrinking the boundaries of the Bears Ears National Monument, one of the key points he emphasized is that some of the land is already subject to special management restrictions. Zinke's interim report released Monday notes there are 11 wilderness study areas inside the monument that comprise 381,000 acres and are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. The lands have to be in the same or better condition than they were 41 years ago to ensure Congress has the ability to invoke permanent wilderness protection. That year is significant, 1976, when Congress passed the Federal Lands Policy Management Act that set up the majority of Utah's wilderness study areas — vast amounts of land that have remained in limbo since then. There is also the Dark Canyon Wilderness of 46,353 acres on Forest Service land administered by that federal agency that has permanent wilderness status and is managed as such. The BLM's resource management plan and maps of the region show that two-thirds of the land inside the 1.35-million acre monument is in some sort of protected status, withdrawn from mineral development. That includes special recreation management areas, wilderness study areas and 48,000 acres of lands managed for wilderness and identified for protections after an exhaustive 1999 inventory of lands with wilderness characteristics inside Utah. In 2012, the BLM released a revised and more aggressive policy on management of the study areas, which allows nonmotorized, primitive recreational activities such as backpacking, horseback riding, rafting, fishing and hunting. Zinke's preliminary recommendation asks Congress to clarify management practices of study areas within a monument's boundaries because he says the land uses under each designation may be at odds with each other. In a study area, mechanized access is generally prohibited, except on already established routes, including mountain biking. Outright wilderness designations, such at Dark Canyon, prohibit mechanized access altogether, including equipment for fighting wildfires or watershed restoration — unless an emergency exception is granted. Within the Bears Ears monument boundaries there are also special recreation management areas that include Grand Gulch and Cedar Mesa that have been withdrawn from potential mineral development and in some instances overlap lands that are being managed to protect wilderness characteristics...more

No comments: