Discover more from The Land Desk
Motorheads appeal Moab-area travel plan
National motorized access lobbying groups are appealing the Bureau of Land Management’s recently released Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges travel management plan that closes some motorized routes on a slickrock expanse between Green River and Moab, Utah. The appellants claim the plan — which closes some motorized routes — violates federal law, is “arbitrary and capricious,” and is even unconstitutional.
But really they’re just miffed that they can’t continue to ride their OHVs just about everywhere.
The plan, long in the making, was intended to strike a balance between motorheads’ desire for unfettered access and the urgent need to mitigate the impacts of a burgeoning number of OHVs, especially side-by-sides, on public lands. But even this “balance” was tilted toward the OHVs: Of the 1,120 miles of existing motorized routes in the 469-square-mile planning area, more than 800 miles will remain open to motorized travel. Only 317 miles, or less than one-third of the total, will be closed.
This moderate reduction in motorized travel would help protect some more sensitive areas from the vehicles and the increased volume of human traffic the vehicles enable, while also making it slightly easier for the non-motorized crowd to escape the danger, the dust, and the incessant buzzing of the OHVs.
But the Blue Ribbon Coalition, other motorized access groups, and, for that matter, most Utah politicians, have an ideological intolerance to any road closures whatsoever — whether those roads go anywhere or not. The state and various county commissions have spent millions of dollars fighting road closures. They’ve led illegal and damaging protest rides into closed areas and subjected BLM staffers to threats and intimidation. County sheriffs of a certain ilk have even attempted to press criminal charges against federal employees simply for doing their jobs.
This case is a bit different, because the local county commission favors the BLM compromise. In fact, they advocated for a more restrictive plan that would have closed 437 miles of trails. In 2021, the commission urged the BLM to create a rational plan that would remedy the existing situation, in which 95% of the planning area was within a half mile of a motorized route and less than 1% was a mile or more away from a road. “In particular, it is important to provide opportunities for quiet forms of recreation, out of earshot of motorized trails,” they wrote. “We think the travel plan should ensure that a reasonable percentage of the planning area is more than one mile from a road or motorized trail.”
Instead of wielding ol’ RS-2477, the 157-year-old defunct statute giving the right to build highways across public lands to access mines, the Blue Ribbon Coalition and friends are attempting other spurious arguments, such as:
The plan violates the Dingell Act, the 2019 legislation designating Labyrinth Canyon as a wilderness area. Congress emphasized that the act was meant only to protect the designated wilderness areas, not “to create protective perimeters or buffer zones around the wilderness areas.” The appellants claim this plan is an attempt to do just that. But the argument falls flat when you consider how many routes near the wilderness remain open. That’s no buffer.
The closures violate the Constitution’s Appointments Clause. Okay, this one’s so goofy I’m not even going to get into it. (Basically they’re saying the BLM’s district manager doesn’t have the authority to make any decisions because they aren’t elected or directly appointed by the president).
The decision is arbitrary and capricious. Not! The BLM has been working on this plan for more than five years and has accepted and considered thousands of comments. If anything was arbitrary it was the establishment of more than 1,000 miles of roads and paths across the landscape over the last century.
Chances of the appeal actually going somewhere are pretty slim, given these arguments. It’s a colossal waste of time nevertheless.
Speaking of extreme Utah politicians and OHVs: State Rep. Phil Lyman just launched his 2024 gubernatorial campaign. Lyman, once a mild-mannered accountant-turned-county commissioner concerned about federal land management, has become radicalized along with much of the rest of the Republican Party.
Even in the lead-up to his OHV protest ride in Recapture Canyon Lyman was fairly measured — if also a bit misguided — about his motivations. At the last minute, after fanning the flames and inviting the Bundy clan to join him, he tried to talk the mob out of doing anything illegal, to his credit. It didn’t work (and he went on to join the mob in doing something illegal by riding past the closure).
Then the feds moved to hold him accountable for his actions and that’s when he went off the rails into an abyss of extremism — and Trumpism, endorsing the faux-billionaire Manhattan real estate developer with a gold-plated toilet long before most of his fellow Utahns did. When Trump was arrested, Lyman posted mug shots of Trump, Dinesh D’Souza, and himself — alongside one of Martin Luther King, Jr. — and the words “All the greats have one.” Yuck. Just yuck.
He’s now considered among the most conservative members of the ultra-conservative state legislature and he formed the Yellowcake Caucus to support what he has Trumpingly called the “beautiful” uranium industry.
Lyman indicated that he thinks incumbent Gov. Spencer Cox is a RINO, or Republican in Name Only, i.e. he’s too “liberal” to represent the party. But Cox isn’t just a conservative, but a hard-right conservative (and, by the way, was the first to donate to Lyman’s legal defense fund). Makes you wonder what the archetypal Republican looks like for the Lymans (and Gaetzes, Boeberts, Hagemans, Jordans, and, for that matter, Mike Johnsons) of the world. Is it Ronald Reagan? Dick or Liz Cheney? George W. Bush? Nope, apparently not. These days if you wanna be a Republican, you have to prostrate yourself to Donald Trump. Otherwise, you’re not welcome in the “big tent” of the GOP.
So I guess RINO means you’re just not quite crazy enough, obstructive enough, or extreme enough. This is what the GOP — the party of Abraham Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt — has become. It’s too bad. It will be interesting to see which path Utah’s voters take.
The Lisbon Valley in southeastern Utah just can’t get a break from mining companies poking their drills and shovels into it.
The latest to put the valley’s geology in its sights is Australia-based American West Metals, which plans to begin exploratory drilling soon for its Copper Warrior project. They’ll be located about nine miles west of and targeting the same formation as the on-again, off-again Lisbon Valley copper mine. They’ll also be adjacent to the remains of the long-defunct Big Indian/Blue Crystal copper mine, one of the first mining operations in the area and a prime illustration of how messy mining can be.
It surely will only get worse. Nearly every acre of public land in the Lisbon Valley that has not been leased out to oil and gas companies has been claimed by mining companies — and/or speculators — under the 1872 Mining Law. The aforementioned American West Metals project is surrounded by claims, patented claims, abandoned mines, and prospective mines, including Laramide’s La Sal uranium project, which is permitted but awaiting more favorable market conditions to reopen.
It’s fair to say the Lisbon Valley is a sacrifice zone. I’m drawn there despite — or maybe even because — of this. It contains pockets of quiet (aside from the drone of pumpjacks pumping) and ample beauty (and hydrogen sulfide). At least it does for now, so long as most of the industrial operations are either past or mere potential.
If you happen to look at social media or read the news, you, too, are probably feeling bombarded by opinions and hot takes and all sorts of other BS regarding the Israel-Gaza situation. I don’t know much about that stuff, so I’ll refrain from commenting except to say killing innocent civilians— especially children — is never justified, and there are no winners in war. And I’ll point you to the wisest piece of writing I’ve yet seen on the issue. It’s by Etgar Keret and, don’t worry, it’s only 600 words: