Utah county tries to rein in off-roaders

 

“There was a time I could go out and ride a motorcycle cross-country,” says Ray Peterson, director of the Emery County Public Lands Council. “And the next day I could go back out and there wouldn’t be another track except mine.” That’s no longer the case: Off-road vehicle use in Utah has exploded during the past decade. But while most of the state’s counties support unrestricted off-roading, Emery County is bucking the trend.

In late February, the Utah House passed legislation that would have allowed off-road vehicles to travel the state’s roads and most highways. (The bill later died in the Senate.) And last fall, when the Bureau of Land Management closed parts of Factory Butte Recreational Area to cross-country travel to protect rare cacti, outraged Wayne County commissioners amended their county plan to declare Factory Butte open “to cross-country [off-road vehicle] travel 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.”

But in Emery County, officials are taking a different tack. This fall, the Emery County Public Lands Council, an advisory body made up of representatives of public-land interests, sent letters to local newspapers calling for curbs on illegal motorized vehicle use. Describing how increased use harmed roads, land and ranchers, they called for more educational efforts, asked citizens to report illegal off-roading, and advocated higher fines for rule-breakers.

Within Emery County, the Bureau of Land Management already has some of the most stringent off-road restrictions in Utah. Since 2003, travel in the San Rafael Swell has been allowed only on designated routes. Even so, county officials are concerned by the exponential growth in off-road vehicle use. Ninety-two percent of Emery County is public, and off-road enthusiasts are flooding in from the Wasatch Front and southwest Colorado.

County officials don’t want to stop this tourism, which brings dollars to local towns. But Peterson says he doesn’t want the economy to become dependent on it, either; the county has already suffered from the boom and bust of the coal economy.

Members of the Public Lands Council are also concerned about the county’s water supply. The area, which receives only about eight inches of rain a year,depends on a watershed that starts in the Manti-La Sal National Forest, in the northeast corner of the county. Council members worry that the erosion caused by off-roaders will cause heavy runoffs and soil in reservoirs.

There have been no studies to confirm the problem, but erosion was pronounced this fall, when a wet hunting season prompted vehicles to drive around ruts, resulting in the widening of roads. Illegal off-road driving also left ruts and muddy swaths of ground. “You don’t have to be a scientist,” says Sherrel Ward, president of the Huntington-Cleveland Irrigation Company and a member of the Public Lands Council. “You have soil coming down and that makes water muddy.”

For now, the Lands Commission hopes that public outreach, such as the letters, will help curtail illegal riding when the off-roading season kicks into high gear this spring. County Commissioner Gary Kofford quotes an old axiom: “If you abuse it, you’re going to lose it."
High Country News Classifieds
  • ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    HawkWatch International seeks an experienced fundraiser to join our awesome team! This position will provide support in all aspects of the department. We are looking...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING IN TAOS, NEW MEXICO www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a...
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details:
  • HAND CRAFTED LOG HOME IN TETON VALLEY
    on ten acres. Full view of the Grand Teton. 35 miles to Yellowstone and 20 minutes to Grand Targhee Ski Area.
  • ACREAGE WITH HOME, SHOP, BARN FOR SALE!
    Must see for sng/extd fam or corp retreat in pines! $1,030,000
  • WESTERN REGIONAL MANAGER
    The American Forest Foundation seeks a smart and highly motivated candidate to join our Western conservation team. The Regional Manager supports the Regional Director to...
  • TRANSPORTATION PLANNER
    Exciting opportunity to lead the charge on meeting the future transportation demands of our community! This position will develop, coordinate, and implement the Integrated Transportation...
  • ENVIRONMENTAL WRITING INSTITUTE (EWI)
    with Robert Michael Pyle September 26-30, 2018, in Missoula MT.
  • REPORTING FELLOW - BOISE, ID
    Boise State Public Radio is hiring a Reporting Fellow as part of a new nationwide collaborative, Guns & America. Based in the state capitol, Boise...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Middle Colorado Watershed Council. Rifle, CO.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF RIVERSEDGE WEST (FORMERLY TAMARISK COALITION)
    RiversEdge West is seeking an entrepreneurial leader with solid nonprofit management skills to lead our high functioning team and help us make an impact on...
  • HIRING BEARS EARS EDUCATION CENTER DIRECTOR
    Conservation nonprofit Friends of Cedar Mesa in Bluff, Utah is hiring an Education Center Director to oversee the operation of the Bears Ears Education Center....
  • DEVELOPMENT COORDINATOR WITH WRA
    Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is seeking a talented, organized person with great people skills, who is passionate about protection of the natural environment to work...
  • DIRECTOR OF REGIONAL COMMUNICATIONS STRATEGY
    The Wilderness Society is recruiting for an experienced Communicator for our Northwest Region. This position is located in Seattle, WA. For more information please visit...
  • SALMON RIVER IDAHO WILDERNESS RETREAT HOME
    Here is an opportunity to have a piece of self-sufficient paradise on Idaho's Main Salmon River adjacent to the largest Forest Service wilderness area in...
  • RAMMED EARTH SOLAR COTTAGE
    in 5-home conservation community & botanical sanctuary on 20 acres.
  • MEMBERSHIP AND ENGAGEMENT COORDINATOR
    The Montana Wildlife Federation is looking for an enthusiastic and innovative Membership and Engagement Coordinator to help grow and maintain our grassroots voice for wildife,...
  • SR ENVIRONMENTAL PLANNER
    The City of Fort Collins is excited to announce a Sr Environmental Planner position within the Natural Areas Department. This position will be housed within...
  • HISTORICAL VACATION CABIN
    on beautiful Snow Angel Ranch located within San Juan National Forest near Pagosa Springs, CO. Lakes, fly-fishing, swimming, hiking, mountain biking, horse trails, horse accommodations...
  • FIVE-ACRE VIEW LOT WITH WELL
    5 acres, well. Abuts Carson NF; hike fish ski; deer turkey elk.