The picture above is the Taylor Canyon Overlook located at the end of a route that the Bureau of Land Management lovingly refers to as Route 1026B. It is one of the 317 miles of trails that will be closed by the final travel plan that the BLM released for this area last week. I was in Moab the week prior to the decision being released, and one evening I had time to go explore one trail in the Labyrinth Rims area. I knew this route was on the hit list of routes that might be closed, so I wanted to see what we would be losing if access to this route was lost forever because of a capricious decision in a rigged and broken process.
Last year when we helped facilitate thousands of comments from our supporters to advocate for keeping this area open, there was a glimmer of hope that the BLM would choose a reasonable plan if the agency would listen to feedback from so many of the users who actually recreate in this area and use these trails. However, in the last year the team at BRC has watched as agencies across the federal government have proposed, analyzed, and adopted management plans that have become increasingly radical. When I saw the draft management plan proposals for the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument that was released in August on the heels of another 1 million acre land grab by Antiquities Act abuse in Arizona, I started getting the sinking feeling that the current Administration was abandoning all reason and using the administrative planning process to ram through a raft of closures.
I knew that the final plan for Labyrinth Rims in Moab would be released by the end of September from updates we get from the federal court that is supervising the settlement that requires the BLM to review most of its travel plans in Utah. If the plans we had been reviewing were any indication of how things would go in Moab, it became clear that the BLM was going to be receiving significant pressure from the political bosses in Washington DC to pick a variation of the worst plan possible for public access to the area.
This is exactly what they did.
Our friend and supporter, Patrick McKay provided a great summary of the plan once it was released:
There’s no other way to say this. This travel plan is the worst defeat motorized recreation has suffered in decades. SUWA won. Moab is lost. Almost every major trail west of Moab is closed, including Day Canyon Point, Hey Joe Canyon, Mashed Potatoes, Ten Mile Canyon, Hell Roaring Canyon, Mineral Canyon, Hidden Canyon, 7-Up, two of the three overlooks on Deadman Point, and many more. Poison Spider, Golden Spike, 7 Mile Rim, 3D, Buttes and Towers, Hell Roaring Rim, and Metal Masher will stay open but that’s about it.
All motorized access to the Green River except for county B roads is closed. Most overlooks on the rims of Labyrinth Canyon, 10 Mile Canyon, Taylor Canyon, and South Fork 7 Mile Canyon are closed. For no other reason than the fact the BLM decided to completely reverse course and prioritize non-motorized recreation everywhere there is anything remotely scenic, contrary to the express direction of their own resource management plan. I thought this would be bad, but I never dreamed it would be this bad.https://www.facebook.com/groups/444982933112380/posts/1058534191757248/
This map shows you what routes and campsites will be closed by the plan: https://pmckay.maps.arcgis.com/apps/instant/basic/index.html?appid=34be7a17fd764304b93a5cbb4e39a31c&fbclid=IwAR1R1uw6bbtVerUbtJB7LWKV9TCAcb9NuMaLNHJvjsISZejldbfyZtktYQM_aem_AWGQScFE7cXpR_uhtfOwtH17Q_zw2fltzoViAiKH7BHOp5s3KBWbF8ogh9YseUsfrak
This was a fight we knew was coming. This was a fight we had been preparing for for several years. Now we’re going to fight for these trails, and we’re going to need your help. Here is our plan and what you can do to help.
Action 1: We Will Challenge This Plan In Court
BlueRibbon Coalition has been fighting to protect public recreation access in court since 1987. When agencies buckle and bend to the pressures of political appointees in Washington DC, their decisions become vulnerable. After all, the priority is enacting a political agenda – not following the law. We’ve been on the other side of legal fights with the wilderness groups that are the true author of this plan to close Moab, and we know that the release of the final plan is only a step in a process that will likely be decided by a judge.
Many have asked what the next steps will be? When will the trails actually close? Many have asked what can they do to help?
The next most immediate step is that BRC will prepare and file an administrative appeal of the decision with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, which is where an administrative law judge who is employed by the Department of the Interior will decide if the Department of the Interior made the right decision. Not surprisingly, the administrative law judges of the executive branch of the government almost always decide that the executive branch of the government is always right. This is the final step of the administrative process that is required to be completed before an action can be brought before an actual court that is part of the judicial branch of government.
During this step it is likely that BRC and others will also file a petition to stay the decision. Technically, the decision doesn’t go into effect until 30 days after the decision is signed by the BLM, which would be 30 days from September 28, 2023. Until then, the trails that will be closed will remain open. If the stay on the decision is granted, it could mean the trails stay open for longer. If the stay isn’t granted, options become available to file a legal challenge in federal court, which would also likely include asking for a preliminary injunction. If an injunction is granted, the trails could stay open. The timing of closures will depend on the course of legal proceedings.
We expect to see the state of Utah challenge this decision. We expect to see other allied groups challenge the decision. We expect to see the wilderness groups file to be defendant intervenors. There is a lot of work to do. We will be as aggressive as we can possibly be with the financial resources that we have. We are incredibly grateful for the donations and support we’ve seen since the decision was announced. However, we still think we’re barely scratching the surface of support we can and should receive for this fight given the millions of users that will be hurt by this decision.
If you’re upset by the Moab decision, we need your support for our legal fund.
Action 2: We Need to Pressure Congress to Stop This Plan
In many of the comment threads about this decision, we have seen many folks say that “elections have consequences.” While this is true, it is worth pointing out which elections have had which consequences here. First of all, the decision was made and signed by a Bureau of Land Management Field Manager, acting in the capacity of an unelected career bureaucrat. She was likely acting under the heavy influence of BLM Director Tracy Stone Manning, and her Deputy Director, Nada Culver. Both of these positions are also unelected. BLM Director Manning’s position is Senate confirmed. Here is what Utah’s senators had to say about their votes against confirming Tracy Stone Manning:
According to Mike Lee, “She was and is a radical. Her past actions, her positions, her statements and her goals would each individually disqualify her from service. But combined they make her, frankly, an offensive candidate to the countless people in Utah and throughout the West who rely on Bureau of Land Management cooperation for their livelihoods and for their way of life.”
“Romney said on the Senate floor that Stone-Manning is not worthy of the public’s trust, and her history of aiding eco-terrorism is ‘extremely troubling’ and alone should disqualify her for the position. He said ‘It would be like nominating Bernie Madoff to serve as treasury secretary.'”
It should also be noted that Nada Culver was the attorney representing the Wilderness Society in the original legal challenge that resulted in the settlement that required the BLM to reevaluate their travel plans. During crucial periods in the development of this plan she was the interim director of the BLM. While she was acting in this capacity the Inspector General of the Interior Department found that she violated ethics rules for meeting with the Wilderness Society about agency policy changes. To our knowledge she was never investigated for the possible unethical interference in the Utah travel management planning settlement, but she should be.
We expect to see vigorous opposition to this plan from Utah’s Governor and Attorney General. We will be paying close attention from any response from the legislature. It is true that Grand County officials supported the restrictions, but several of the elected officials in Grand County who supported the restrictions have since lost their re-election bids.
Because this decision was primarily made by unelected bureaucrats in a federal agency, Congress has the most important role to play in stopping this plan from going into effect.
The 2017 Settlement Agreement between the Department of Interior, SUWA, the Wilderness Society, BlueRibbon Coalition, Colorado TPA, and Ride with Respect, says, “The obligations imposed upon Federal Defendants under this Settlement Agreement can only be undertaken using appropriated funds.”
Last weekend the Congress voted on a 45 day spending bill, which means they will be preparing and voting on another spending bill in the coming weeks. Congress has already introduced legislation to defund the radical planning process that will shut down the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. We believe Congress should adopt the same strategy to use the power of the purse to defund the implementation and enforcement of this plan and the entire 2017 Settlement Agreement. This planning process has been weaponized to circumvent Congress, create de facto wilderness, and violate key provision of the Dingell Act. A vote to continue funding the planning effort of this Settlement Agreement is basically a vote in favor of SUWA’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. This is the strongest signal Congress can send to the land management agencies that they won’t fund unreasonable, radical management plans.
Action 3: We Need to Control the Media Narrative Around this Fight and Others
Part of the reason that environmental groups succeeded in closing so many trails in this Moab area is because they invest heavily in controlling the media narrative around the issue. At BlueRibbon Coalition, we have been working to get our viewpoints included in the media stories about this issue, and we were interviewed for every major story that was released on this topic in the Utah media market:
Our Executive Director, Ben Burr, also had an op-ed published in the Salt Lake Tribune that discusses the negative impacts this plan will have.
We’re doing a lot to inform the public about the truth of the impact this plan will have. But, we recognize that there is a lot more we can be doing.
The motorized outdoor recreation community is filled with social media influencers and personalities who can collectively reach millions of people. We are active on all social media accounts, but we need the help of others to repackage and amplify the information we share. If you maintain a social media presence that you are willing to use to help us educate and inform the public about the fight to keep these trails in Moab, we invite you to follow the link below to join our Social Media Strike Force. We will plan to update everyone who signs up through text, email, and social media outreach whenever we have an important update. You can then choose the best way for you to help us spread the message.
Action 4: We Need to Encourage Industry, Club, and Organization Support
One of the most common questions we get from our members is whether their favorite off-road company, manufacturer, club, or business is supporting BlueRibbon Coalition. We are incredibly grateful and proud of the support we have earned from the offroad community. As part of our fight to keep our trails in Moab, we want our members to know who is supporting BRC. Every Friday we will update the list of businesses, clubs and organizations that are supporting our fight.
We always feature these new supporters in our weekly newsletter that is sent to our members. We will also post the list on social media and tag the new supporters. If your favorite off-road business or organization isn’t on the list, we hope you will invite them to reach out to us to explore the many ways we can work together to fight harder and grow our movement. Our door is open to all supporters. We hope at the most basic level that all businesses, clubs, and organizations will become members of BlueRibbon Coalition. Our partners have also sponsored our Lost Trails Guidebook, donated products and services for sweepstakes fundraisers, promoted our efforts through their marketing channels, offered special discounts to our members, and found other creative ways to support our mission. If you care about keeping our trails open, there is a place for you at BlueRibbon Coalition. Contact us today, and let’s start working together.
Action 5: Order a Copy of the Lost Trails Guidebook and Explore the Trails
A few weeks ago we released Volume 2 of the Lost Trails Guidebook. This volume features dozens of trails in Moab and Arizona that are at risk of closure. We learned last week that several of these trails and campsites are scheduled to be closed by the plan that the Bureau of Land Management released for the Moab area.
The soonest the plan will go into effect is 30 days from the decision, which was signed on September 28. Legal appeals could extend this date further.
While these trails are still open, we encourage everyone who has plans to visit Moab to explore some of these trails, so we can learn firsthand what we will lose if we don’t fight for these trails. We have partnered with Utah Public Lands Alliance to create a form where those who ride these trails can report on the condition of the trail and the value of the experience. We will review these submissions with UPLA to determine if any of these reports can be used to inform witness statements for the legal actions we will be taking.
We want everyone to become advocate explorers, who recognize that enjoying phenomenal recreation experiences is one of the most important steps we can take to fight for our trails.