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The BLM accepts public comments on changes to management plans for the San Rafael Swell

A canyon in the San Rafael Swell
Ellis Juhlin
Ellis Juhlin
A canyon in the San Rafael Swell

The Bureau of Land Management Price Field Office will be updating their management plans for several areas. The BLM is accepting public commentary on these changes through January 7.

The Bureau of Land Management in Utah is responsible for nearly 22.8 million acres of public land, which makes up about 42 percent of the state. A comprehensive resource management plan is created for all lands managed by the BLM.

Angela Hawkins is a Public Affairs Officer for the BLM. Hawkins said, “So a resource management plan provides a blueprint for how to manage public lands, and they are updated when needs or priorities change, or when legislation like the John D. Dingell Act happens.”

In 2019 the John D. Dingell Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act was passed, designating existing areas of BLM land for recreation, wilderness or as a National Conservation Area. In Utah, the Dingell Act led to the designation of the San Rafael Swell Recreation Area and seventeen wilderness areas, fourteen of which are located in and around the San Rafael Swell. The BLM is still responsible for management of these lands, but management changes when a parcel of BLM is designated as a wilderness area.

They are protected for their flora and fauna. Unlike recreation areas, wilderness areas seek to minimize human impacts. Motorized use of any kind is not allowed, which includes off highway vehicles such as ATVs and RVs. Wilderness areas are also closed to oil and gas development and mining activities, as well as commercial activities with a few exceptions for things like guided tours.

“So, with the RMP, the resource management plan, we are now working within that legislation, and within those guidelines to change the way that we manage all of those lands," Hawkins explained.

The first step of updating a Resource Management Plan is referred to as the scoping period, and it’s when the BLM calls for public comments. Hawkins said this is a crucial time for Utahns to share their point of view.

“We only have so many people. And so we really look to the public as boots on the ground to tell us those issues that we might not be aware of to tell us are there concerns that we might not see or hear," Hawkins said. "So it's really important for the public to be involved and we are so welcoming for that information.”

Judi Brawer is a Wildlands Attorney with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, also known as SUWA. She said that overall, SUWA would like to see the BLM create entirely new management plans, rather than updating existing resource management plans.

“In our opinion, the BLM should be creating a whole separate management plan for their San Rafael swell recreation area, not just updating the broader RMP," said Brawer.

The creation of new management plans for re-designated BLM lands is not unheard of. When the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area was created, the BLM’s St. George Field Office created a new, separate plan to manage the area. Brawer felt that it’s important to recognize the resources in these areas, and that a new management plan would better take that into account.

“The Dingell Act was very, very clear, in terms of the purpose of the recreation area," Brawer explained. "And the purpose is that the recreation area was designated as for the protection, conservation and enhancement of the recreational, cultural, natural, scenic wildlife, ecological, historical, and educational resources of the recreation area. It does not elevate recreation above all of those other resources.”

Brawer hopes that public commentary will express the need for a new management plan. She said commenting during this scoping period is crucial because the BLM will use them to develop their range of alternatives. She would like to see a new plan focus on protecting resources, and ensuring visitors in recreation areas don’t spill over into other places and harm fragile ecosystems.

"The literature review that we released earlier this year, found that once an area is impacted by recreation, adding more recreation there has minimal additional impacts. Right, the the more the most impact comes at the very beginning when you open up an area to recreation," Brawer said.

Brawer explained that SUWA is focused on working with the BLM to develop a proactive management strategy. SUWA does not want to close access to public lands, but they feel areas could be better maintained for recreation with a zoned approach, which identifies different areas where certain types of recreation are authorized.

You can submit comments through the BLM’s E-planning, National NEPA register. “You type in either John D. Dingell, or you can do the San Rafael swell. And you'll find the act on the left hand side," Hawkins said. "And once you click on it, there's a big green button that says participate now. And we'd love your comments and thoughts.”

The BLM is accepting them through January 7.

Ellis Juhlin is a science reporter here at Utah Public Radio and a Master's Student at Utah State. She studies Ferruginous Hawk nestlings and the factors that influence their health. She loves our natural world and being part of wildlife research. Now, getting to communicate that kind of research to the UPR listeners through this position makes her love what she does even more. In her free time, you can find her outside on a trail with her partner Matt and her goofy pups Dodger and Finley. They love living in a place where there are year-round adventures to be had!