While controversy continues to simmer over the Bureau of Land Management’s draft plans for 3.6 million acres in the Rock Springs area, more restrictive measures seem to be taking hold on federal land all over the West, an off-highway vehicle enthusiast told Cowboy State Daily.
“It seems like ‘drip, drip, drip’ – they just chip away at little pieces of public land,” said Ken Draze. “It seems like every time you turn around, they’re trying to lock people out of public land.”
Draze and his wife, Trish, are retired and recently decided to settle in Pinedale, where they’re building a house. They like to tour public lands across the West and Southwest in their side-by-side utility terrain vehicle, which he calls their “buggy.”
But he’s worried that the BLM and other federal agencies are leaning toward more road and trail closures.
During a recent trip to vast and hugely popular BLM land in Utah’s Moab region, Draze said he was alarmed by proposals to close many of the roads and trails there.
“Moab had, by far, the cleanest trail system we’ve ridden,” he said. “But we were amazed to hear the BLM say that they were going to shut down a huge amount of trails there.”
Cowboy State Daily requesting comment from the BLM’s Moab field office weren’t answered.
Rock Springs Worries
There have been a flurry of concerns expressed about the BLM’s draft Rock Springs Resource Management Plan (RMP). Many have said the agency’s current favored Alternative B is far too restrictive on ranching, energy exploration and other uses.
Language suggesting that there might be some road closures in the Rock Springs region was initially in the draft, but BLM officials told members of the Wyoming Legislature that was an error and that it would be struck from the draft.
Another separate travel management plan dealing with roads and trails in the Rock Springs area will be handled separately to the RMP matter, BLM officials told legislators.
Meanwhile, at the urging of the state of Wyoming, the agency agreedThursday to extend the public comment period for the RMP, which had been scheduled to close on Nov. 16, until Jan. 17, 2024.
A Wider Pattern
While road and trail management might be off the table, at least for now, in the Rock Springs area, Draze said he’s seen closures proposed on BLM and National Forest lands not only in Moab, but elsewhere in Utah, Idaho and other states.
He also said he’s seen a push toward restrictions on “dispersed” RV camping. Meaning, the BLM and U.S. Forest Service seem to be increasingly discouraging people from setting up campsites wherever they please and instead pushing them into campgrounds.
“Now they’re starting to shut that dispersed RV camping down and trying to force people into designated areas, where you’re stacked on top of each other,” Draze said.
‘Public Land Owner’
Draze said he understands the increasing challenges that federal land agencies face as more and more people take to the outdoors.
There is legitimate concern about litterbugs and others who abuse the land, as well as tension between different user groups, he said.
However, he thinks the BLM and other agencies are taking the wrong approach by pushing toward more restrictions and road closures.
As a retired law enforcement officer, he said a better approach would be to punish the bad actors.
“If you’re leaving your campsite all messy with garbage and you’re not being a good steward of the public land, then that should be a law enforcement matter,” he said. “You have to go after the people who are committing the offenses. You can’t just say, ‘Well, everybody’s bad’ and shut things down.”
And while different public land user groups might not always see eye-to-eye, they should stand together, he added.
“As buggy riders, as mountain bikers, as RV campers — if we don’t vote to support use of our public lands, respectfully, then they’ll pick us out one by one,” Draze said. “I’m a public landowner, and I take that seriously.”
Mark Heinz can be reached at email@example.com.