• Are we saving the environment for people and wildlife?

    Some of the most fascinating landscapes I encountered were in southern Utah.

    Family members had regaled me with the unique features of the landscapes in Capital Reef  National Park decades ago, when it was still classified as a National Monument. I arranged a trip there, and also to the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in mid October.

    Whirling snow greeted my arrival, although I had noted the scudding cloud formations on my drive there. I stayed at the only ranch located within the Monument, owned by some great folks, Lurt and Alice Knee.

    The first few days I did my birding from the back of their Arabian mare, and also took  many slides of the wonderful sandstone rock formations and enjoyed viewing the cake like layers of reddish brown Navaho  sandstone alternating with the greenish Chinle sandstone layers and intermediate shades  of buff and cream sandstone.

    Lurt  Knee’s  delightful weimaraner dog Smokey, virtually acted as a guide in the  wilder areas, which were easy to get lost in; but Smokey led  the way back always.

    From Capitol Reef,  I went on to the Grand Staircase -Escalante National Monument.

    To see Dippers again, those songbirds which can dive into turbulent running streams or rivers, and walk  on the bottom, had been a compulsion of mine. Dippers are  7- 1/2 inch long, plump, short tailed, long legged, charcoal gray birds that feed on aquatic insects and tiny fish which they catch in  swift running waters . They hold their breath longer than seems possible for such small songbirds, and they never emerge from the water where you expect them to.  My rancher hosts  in Capitol Reef suggested that I try the Paria River Canyon, in the Monument as the most likely place to see Dippers since the water level was high enough that year.

    Arriving at the Paria River Canyon, I encountered  a group of ORV [Off-Road-Vehicle] drivers who seemed to be either drunk and downright reckless, or both.  Predominantly young, but including many others much older, they seemed annoyed over the fact that I guided my rental jeep carefully around  rocks and any water filled depressions on the canyon floor. They deliberately drove into and out of the riparian habitat  so the rear wheels of their vehicles hurled broken branches, mud and rocks helter skelter. They crowded my jeep, trying to force me into the river.  I had no option but to hug a sheer wall of the canyon, until these crazies moved on.

    Any  Dippers that might have been further upstream would have quickly departed  as soon as these noisy, water-churning, destructive vehicles approached nearby..  Reluctantly, I turned back, and decided to report this illegal activity to the BLM.

    The BLM official I spoke to was cordial enough, if extremely nervous. Glancing around to see if any of his co-workers were within earshot, he suggested we get some coffee, then selecting a small room, started to question me, to determine if I was a member of any special organization.  I showed him some ID and told him that I really was there for some wildlife and landscape photography; but wanted to report my harassment from the ORV group.  His responses were guarded until I informed him that I was a career  environmentalist, and favored protections for endangered wildlife, including their  habitats. When I mentioned the destructive roiling up of the riparian habitat by these  ORV drivers, he nodded in agreement , and then very softly told me that he was a member of Ducks Unlimited, the Izaak Walton League; and none of his co-workers knew that. He also pointed out that his job would be terminated immediately, if his superiors in the BLM found out about his secret affiliations. He went on to tell me that the large groups of ORV members and the retailers of the ORV’s , were lobbying  to convert faint deer  trails and hikers’ tracks in roadless areas ( the R.S. 2477 maps ) into county roads;   and they had the full support of of the Kane County Commissioners, so that it would open  more forested wildlands to  ORV usage.

    Very recently I discovered that ORV proponents already had an existing 1000 miles of  motor vehicle routes in the Monument’s 10 year travel plan; and the Paria River is not one of them, as it is a river, not a road!!   It also is part of the Paria-Hackberry Wilderness Study Area, and merits inclusion for the National Wild and Scenic River System. For eight years the Bush Administration’s BLM, spinelessly did not enforce the ORV travel plan, or even make a casual attempt at enforcement. The BLM states that it relied upon “voluntary compliance”, which is  hypocrisy at its worst; since the BLM had  previously documented the destructive impacts from illegal vehicular use, with the attending loss of critical wildlife habitat for fish, amphibians,  reptiles , birds and mammals.

    In early May of this year, in a fit of motorized mass dementia, several hundred ORV riders illegally drove their machines up the Paria River in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, in  open defiance of the BLM’s laissez-faire attitude re: travel compliance in ecologically sensitive areas. The BLM had known in advance of this forthcoming illegal invasion, as the rider’s had already trumpeted the ride; however the BLM virtually acted as a welcoming committee when they did not issue citations, or take any legal action against the  participants and organizers of this destructive ride.

    How sad it is to think that the very people who so vociferously proclaim their love  of the outdoors, as in this situation, are the same ones who cannot wait to trash such sensitive environment. Hopefully we may be able to enlist the help of the Secrtaryy of the Interior, Ken Salazar, to terminate this lawlessness once and for all.

    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, to which I have been donating, has issued a report on the relationship  if any, between televised hype from ORV  retailers, and the vigilante driving  tactics of too many ORV owners,  with the help of Responsible Trails America ( RTA). Based upon a five-year period of surveys, RTA found  “troubling parallels between the advertising rhetoric,  and reckless,  even violent behavior taking place on off-road vehicles throughout the country.”   Three of the four companies —Arctic Cat, Suzuki, and Polaris had televised ads that were the most aggressive,  and were most likely to incite very aggressive,  anti-social behavior and lawlessness in ORV buyers.

    There are of course decent and law abiding ORV owners; however their numbers are overshadowed by the ones who commit the rapes of the very ecosystems we need to scrub our air from airborne pollutants, and to prevent the enhancement of global warming. It should also be noted that conservation of wildlands protects human communities, as well as wildlife in the forests.

    posted to Cedar Street Times on July 18, 2009

    Topics: Current Edition, Features


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