The Bureau of Land Management is soliciting public comments on its travel plan for the San Rafael Swell and surrounding region.
The plan, released last week, analyzes various alternatives for the establishment of a vehicle access network on portions of the public lands in the Swell and surrounding area.
According to acting field office manager, Tom Rasmussen, the objective of the San Rafael Route Designation Plan is to establish a vehicle network which would provide recreational and other access to public lands while at the same time protecting sensitive natural and cultural resources. The plan implements a decision reached by the BLM in 1991 when it completed the San Rafael Resource Management Plan. This land use plan directed BLM to identify and designate specific vehicle routes within "Limited Use Areas" where vehicle use is restricted to designated roads and trails. The plan affects more than 1.1 million acres of public lands. Approximately 90 percent of the area recently proposed by Emery County leadership and Governor Mike Leavitt as a new national monument lies within the route designation planning area.
Rasmussen described the long-awaited travel plan as an evolutionary process that has benefitted from a high degree of public interest and participation. "We've had citizen-based working groups, previous draft proposals, thousands of comments and multiple inventory efforts conducted by BLM, Emery County and interest groups. All this homework has paid off. We have a solid document ready for public review and we are welcoming comments prior to making a final decision," Rasmussen said.
Four alternatives with specific objectives designed to resolve conflicts and concerns with resources and manageability were analyzed. Alternatives range from designating all 1,074 miles of inventoried routes to designating 580 miles of inventoried routes. The BLM's proposed action (663 miles of inventoried routes) safeguards natural and cultural resources and the values of specially designated areas while providing a recreation access network which includes loop route opportunities.
To solicit public comment on the environmental assessment, more than 450 notification letters to individuals and organizations have been sent out. The San Rafael Route Designation Plan is available on the Internet at http://wqww.price BLMtravelplan.com. Copies of the environmental assessment are available for review at BLM offices in Price, Moab, Salt Lake City and Grand Junction, Colo. Copies are also available at Emery and Carbon County Commission Offices. Comments will be accepted from the public through March 22.
Rasmussen described the timing of the route designation plan as ideal. "A lot of people have done a lot of good things over the past couple of years to help manage access, reduce impacts from cross-country travel, as well as provide user information on how to enjoy and responsibly ride in the Swell."
While he acknowledges that there is plenty more work yet to be done, Rasmussen pointed to recent collaborative partnership efforts as key to managing use. "Joint efforts to increase patrol and signing, install information kiosks and rehabilitate areas impacted by route proliferation are beginning to turn things around. Designating routes is the next critical step forward," said Rasmussen.
Rasmussen also said he is looking forward to completing the travel plan after this last opportunity for public comment. "It's time to pick a lane and go." A final decision is anticipated in the spring.
Written comments should be submitted to: Bureau of Land Management, Attention: Route Designation Plan, 125 S. 600 W., Price, Utah 84501.