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By: Robert Janis


Are Conservationists Using New Tactics to Close Roads

A coalition of conservation organizations, the Bill Barrett Corporation, a Denver-based oil and gas company, Carbon County Utah, and the Bureau of Land Management have announced an agreement between them that closes Horse Bench, Jack Canyon, Jack Ridge and Cedar Ridge Roads on the West Tavaputs Plateau in Desolation Canyon in Utah to motorized vehicles. The Bill Barrett Corporation leases the land from the BLM for a full field natural gas development project. The action was taken without public comment or hearings.

Dale Bartholomew, trails specialist for the Utah Department of Natural Resources Division of Parks and Recreation, and president of Public Lands Equal Access, is familiar with the area and the agreement. He told ATVSource that the routes were open originally in the Resource Management Plan but a controversy arose at Nine Mile Creek and the end of the Horse Bench Road in the Bad Lands cliffs area. “Right there is the border line of the Vernal BLM district and the Price BLM district. Vernal District left the road open and Price District closed it,” explained Bartholomew. The agreement closes the Price District section of the road and thus closes the opportunity for a loop route altogether.

“We didn’t get involved because we didn’t know about the negotiations between the Bill Barrett Corporation, Carbon County, the conservation groups, and the BLM,” continued Barholomew. “This bothers me personally because I ride the Horse Bench Road, and the action closes a fantastic loop that takes you through the Bad Land cliffs and the Nine Mile Creek. I don’t see any good reason for closing it. There is not that much traffic there.”

Bartholomew pointed out that the Bill Barrett Corporation has several pumping stations on the leased BLM land. “The agreement caters to the environmentalists,” he said. He added that as far as he knows, this is the first time this type of agreement to close roads open to motorized vehicle use has been made. “There have been temporary agreements while construction work was going on to accommodate construction equipment. However, this closure is permanent,” said Bartholomew.

Is this a new tactic on the part of environmentalists to force the closing of roads to motorized vehicle? If the closure is ordered directly by the BLM, there would have to be an examination through a National Environmental Policy Act review. These reviews require an environmental assessment along with a public comment period and the right for the public to appeal any closure decision. The public was not involved in the agreement, and there was no environmental assessment. So, one can ask, is this an attempt by conservationists to force road closures without having to perform an NEPA review? Is it possible that the conservationists warned the Bill Barrett Corporation that they would be going after them if they did not agree to closing the roads?

Bartholomew promised to investigate. Meanwhile, he calls for concerned people to file a complaint in writing and ask for an amendment to open the roads to motorized vehicle use.

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