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The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance is petitioning federal officials to close 1,000 miles of all-terrain vehicle trails in a broad ring of "Greater Canyonlands" redrock wilderness in southeast Utah, the group announced Wednesday.
The closures, should the Interior Department agree, would affect a 1.4 million-acre swath in the Bureau of Land Management's charge, stretching from the Dirty Devil River near Hanksville in the west to the Blue Mountains near Monticello in the east. It would leave open about 1,400 miles of motorized routes in the area, which stretches north to south from Labyrinth Canyon to Natural Bridges National Monument.
Many of the proposed closures are meant to preserve desert waterways where both wildlife and Ancestral Puebloan archaeological sites are concentrated and to restore a more primitive experience for float trips in Labyrinth Canyon.
"Not only is this a fabulously beautiful place," said SUWA attorney Heidi McIntosh, "but it's a place with a rich human history."
Other environmentalists say dirt bikes and four-wheelers are ripping up the area's thin crust of cryptobiotic soil, leading to dust storms that coat high-mountain snowfields that are melting faster because the dust absorbs warmth. It's a threat to the Southwest's precarious water supply, said Marion Klaus, a biologist and chairwoman of the Sierra Club's Utah chapter.
"Biological crusts need to be protected in order to protect our water," she said.
Recreational-access advocate Clif Koontz, of the Moab-based group Ride with Respect, said it appears SUWA wants to effectively expand Canyonlands National Park, matching BLM's trail density to that of the more restricted park.
SUWA calls the area "Greater Canyonlands." It covers 2.4 million acres, including the park and parts of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and Manti-La Sal National Forest. The group is petitioning Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to change management only on the BLM lands.
SUWA previously filed a lawsuit challenging management plans for much of eastern Utah, including the Canyonlands region, and BLM spokesman Mitch Snow said he couldn't comment on the new proposal because it involves litigation against his agency.