Judge Backs Canyonlands' Road Closure
A federal judge in Utah has backed a decision by Canyonlands National Park officials to close a backcountry Jeep road to ORV traffic, a ruling that might not be possible in the future.
The ruling this week by Judge Dale Kimball said park officials were fully within their rights, as laid down by the National Park Service Organic Act, to close the Salt Creek Road in the Needles District.
The act's overriding intent, Kimball pointed out, "was to preserve nature as it exists."
The dispute over the road goes back a year or two. When the Park Service closed it to ORV traffic, saying the vehicles were damaging riparian areas, the Utah Shared Access Alliance went to court to fight the closure.
The Salt Creek Road runs for about 10 miles in the Needles District, weaving in and out of the creekbed on its way to Angel Arch. It also leads to an area rich with prehistoric ruins and artifacts.
In applauding Kimball's ruling, Steve Bloch of the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance told the Salt Lake Tribune that it marked a victory for "all Americans who want to see our national parks preserved for today and the future. Salt Creek is a very special place that the National Park Service and its experts concluded was literally being torn apart by motor vehicles. So we're very pleased."
Unfortunately, the battle is not over. There currently is another lawsuit pending over the road. Officials from the state of Utah and San Juan County officials have gone to court claiming that the road is in fact a county right-of-way that should remain open.
Beyond that battle, efforts by the Interior Department's Paul Hoffman to revise the Park Service's Management Policies could lead to a more lenient approach by the agency to off-road traffic in national parks. And, I'm hearing rumbles that there might be a forthcoming effort in the U.S. House of Representatives to rewrite the Park Service's Organic Act to move away from the section that directs the agency to preserve park lands "unimpaired for future generations."
Sadly, these are very precarious times for the National Park Service.