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By: Robert Janis

At Your Leisure

Special Recreational Rides Permits Remain an Issue

Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Near Kanab, Utah
Coral Pink Sand Dunes, Near Kanab, Utah

Clubs that have tried to organize special rides in lands that are administered by the Bureau of Land Management say that they have had problems obtaining the necessary permits. According to the BlueRibbon Coalition, the problem started in early 2004 when the Bureau of Land Management changed its policy on Special Recreation Permits (SRP).

The issues seem to center around the total cost layout a group may incur in order to apply for a permit, how large a group had to be before they needed to obtain a permit, the possibility of the need of an environmental assessment to go along with the application, and the inconsistencies in the decision-making process from one BLM field office to another.

Chad Booth, a Utah native and producer of “At Your Leisure,” a television program about outdoor recreation in Utah, has covered many land issue topics including the Special Recreation Permit issue. Episodes on this and other land use topics can be viewed at the company’s website at www.ayltv.com.

According to Booth, at least in the state of Utah, as the BLM has preceded through a recent resource management plan and their travel plans, they developed a policy that started to generate problems during the last six or seven years that has stirred conflicts. He has heard of a lot of incidences but he was not personally present at any. “A lot of it started to arise when BLM did their last set of travel plans and were evaluating how they would handle resources,” said Booth. “They started to change the way permits were handled. For example, if you are going to plan an organized event, then they set up a number of criteria that you had to satisfy. You have to have insurance, you have to go through a National Environmental Policy Act process and get an environmental assessment of your route to determine what kind of impact your event  would have on the land, and they want to be reimbursed for all the hours it takes them to review your plan and your environmental assessment. Well, by the time you add up all the costs to comply with the BLM demands, a simple event like a fundraiser ride could cost as much as $12,000 to $24,000 just to get set up.”

In addition, said Booth, there is no consistency in how the BLM is enforcing the rules. “There are some offices that define a group event as being more than 12 people,” said Booth. “Well, some family rides consist of 10 to 12 people. However, according to BLM regulations, that constitutes a group event and so that family has to apply for a permit and do all the things that requires including getting insurance, an impact statement, and even put up a bond.”

As a result of all this, Booth heard that events in Utah have been canceled due to the requirements. For example, Booth points out that he heard of scout troops having to cancel an event on BLM land because they couldn’t afford the cost of applying for a permit. The scouting event falls under the regulations because they are organized events with funds involved, and they include more than 12 people. “I’ve been told that there have been occasions when a scout group has made an application and were denied because they did not meet the criteria.”

Moreover, Booth said he has heard that the BLM has threatened to stop certain club rides even though they were arranged spontaneously and was not a planned event. In fact, one incident prompted the Utah Division of Parks and Recreations to challenge the BLM.

Five Mile Pass near Lehi, Utah
Five Mile Pass near Lehi, Utah

“From what I’ve been told, one member of a club wanted to ride a trail in the Moab; and he told friends if they wanted to join him, they should show up at a particular place on Saturday. He volunteered to trail lead,” explained Booth. “The invitation was posted on a blog page of a website. There were no flyers, no other promotion, just the blog.  People show up, and a BLM enforcement officer from the Moab field office is there and was about to issue citations to everyone if they went on with their group ride. So the guy who posted the ride information volunteered to leave--he actually had to leave--and then the rest got to ride. If the guy went along, then the BLM enforcement officer would have issued citations to everyone.

“About the same time that happened, I heard that the Northern Utah ATV Club wanted to plan a clean- up event and ride. That is, they wanted to combine a ride with a public service project,” continued Booth. “They called the Salt Lake office of the BLM and asked about some areas on the Pony Express trail. They told the recreational planner for the BLM what they wanted to do and asked what they needed to do. The planner negotiated some things like where they could park, and the officer said that they may need to get a permit. When they explained that they were combining the ride with a clean up, the officer said that in that case they may not need a permit. The recreation planner asked again where they were going to ride, and the conversation ended. The group shows up at the place, unloads to go on their ride, and when they returned, a BLM enforcement ranger was there and was prepared to write them all citations because they did not have a permit.  The riders said that they felt they had been entrapped.”

Booth concluded that there is no consistency between the offices of the BLM concerning ride permits in Utah. “There are some BLM offices in the state where you can tell them that you want to do an event and a clean-up, and they waive the fees. The riders take their dumpsters, do the event, have the ride and everyone is happy. There are several events like that each year and these people attract 50 to 60 people who participate; but when you go to the next office and plan a similar event, they could have a ranger out there waiting to issue citations because you don’t have a permit.”

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