Rally for Arch Canyon draws more than 100 with concerns about Bears Ears management plan

by David Boyle
News Director
More than a hundred people gathered in Monticello on May 4 for a rally to call for continued Off-Highway Vehicle (OHV) access in Arch Canyon.
A 1,200-page draft management plan for the Bears Ears National Monument was published on March 8, with a 90-day public comment period open from the time and concluding on June 11.
The draft plan includes five alternatives including an identified preferred alternative.
The preferred Alternative E, and Alternative D, include a travel area closure that would include the closure of motorized travel in Arch Canyon.
Members of San Juan Public Entry & Access Rights (SPEAR), organized a rally to support continued motorized use in Arch Canyon on May 4 in the parking lot of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) field office in Monticello.
Attendees rode on OHV’s from the San Juan County Fairgrounds to the BLM field office where Utah State House Representative and gubernatorial candidate Phil Lyman spoke, along with former Grand County Commissioner and Utah House 69 Republican primary candidate Lynn Jackson and San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams.
Speaking with Red Rock Radio on May 2, SPEAR President Brent Johannsen shared that guided rides in Arch Canyon are the first to fill during the annual San Juan ATV Safari.
“I want to emphasize Arch Canyon is the crown jewel of our county trail system. I would hate to see that be taken from us.”
SPEAR Board Member Maury Bergman shared that the group recently led a group of northern Utahns all over 60 years old into the canyon including two riders on oxygen.
“If they close Arch Canyon that would be the last canyon of that type that we wouldn’t be able to access by motor vehicles. ...Not everybody can strap a 50-pound pack on their back and go in multiple days.”
Johannsen and Bergman both shared that the group helps with trail maintenance and beauty and even installed a picnic table in Arch Canyon. 
Regarding concerns for natural and cultural resources in the canyon, Johannsen said that Arch Canyon has been open for a long time.
“We go out of our way to clean up garbage that the hikers and other people leave. We’re mindful of the ruins, most of the ruins are so high nobody can get to them anyway. I think we’ve done a very good job of keeping Arch Canyon unique and in good shape. I don’t see any problems with resources and cultural items being affected.”
As part of the public comment period on the draft plan, a series of meetings have been held by the BLM, Forest Service, and the Bears Ears Commission, made up of five tribes with ancestral ties to the Bears Ears.
The Presidential Proclamation restoring the Bears Ears Monument to its original size included the direction that the monument be co-managed by the federal land agencies and the commission.
The first public meeting regarding the draft plan was an online forum held on April 16. 
In the meeting, federal agencies responded to a written question asking why a proposed closure of Arch Canyon would take place for OHV use.
BLM Monticello Field Manager Jake Palma shared the rationale for the consideration of the closure of the area as part of two draft alternatives.
“That area specifically is rich in cultural resources. There’s water, wildlife, important plants that are culturally important.
“It’s long been a desirable location for multi-day backpacking trips, which hasn’t been ideal for backpackers to get in there while there’s motorized vehicles in the canyon.
“In consideration of sensitive resources, wildlife, cultural resources, water, and user conflict potential, the agencies felt it was appropriate to consider a range of alternatives that considers in a couple of alternatives an area closure for Arch Canyon.
“I’ll reiterate that it is a range of alternatives to consider and that no commitment to this area closure has been made at this time.
“We’ll consider public input in how we proceed from a draft plan to a proposed plan and how we manage that arch canyon area as part of an OHV designation.”
Like the agencies, SPEAR and other groups are encouraging public comments on the draft plan.
Formal public comments on the draft plan can be submitted online at Eplanning.blm.gov/eplanning-ui/project/2020347, by mail to ATTN: Monument Planning, BLM Monticello Field Office, 365 North Main, Monticello, UT 84535 or by filling out a comment card at a public meeting.

San Juan Record

49 South Main St
PO Box 879
Monticello, UT 84535

Phone: 435.587.2277
Fax: 435.587.3377
Open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday