PAGE – The Bureau of Land Management last Wednesday night had an open house at the Courtyard by Marriott and presented a proposal that would increase the number of permits for Coyote Buttes North within the Paria Canyon-Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness.
The agency is seeking input from the public on the number of visitors that can access, as well as input on approaches to manage visitor numbers while preserving wilderness characteristics.
The proposed change would increase recreational opportunities and visitor access while preserving wilderness values. The agency is considering increasing daily visitor limits from 20 people to a maximum of 96 people per day in Coyote Buttes North, where the geologic feature The Wave is located.
The proposal is based on a “recreation opportunity spectrum,” which was first used by Vermilion Cliffs National Monument’s 2008 Resource Management Plan. The ROS is a system for classifying and managing recreation opportunities based on the following criteria: physical setting, social setting, and managerial setting.
According to the BLM, the ROS is already used in managing the area and it establishes the number of visitor encounters per day at 15. This means that on any given day, a visitor could encounter 15 other people while visiting Coyote Buttes North.
Under the new proposal, instead of individuals, each encounter could be one person or one group with each group ranging from four to six people. With some simple math, 16 groups of six people result in a total number of people in each of the two, Coyote Buttes management areas at 96 in each area. Elsewhere, an information poster indicates that, should a group hire a guide to take them in, the number of guides would be in addition to the 96 visitors per day.
Some people at the meeting expressed concern about having to contend with groups climbing over the formation while others are trying to take a picture of The Wave with no one else in it.
To address that issue, there could be “timed release” permits, meaning a permit holder would have to enter at a certain time.
Asked about employees available to check permits at the trailhead and the timed-release permits, a BLM employee said that the plan hadn’t reached that level of detail and there was no funding attached to this proposal to pay for a ranger to be stationed at trailheads.
The proposal is also addressing facility improvements elsewhere at the monument, such as parking lots and restrooms. Some of the areas identified are improvements at Wirepass Trailhead, Lone Pine, White Pocket, among others.
BLM welcomes public comments on facility improvements as part of this review.
Not included in the proposal is any talk about fees, actual location of the lottery, and there is no funding attached to this initiative at this time to implement the plan.
The agency has been receiving pressure from visitors from all over the world, including from politicians, commercial tour operators and local governments to increase the number of permits issued and further develop tourism.
Others, who have known the area for more than 30 years are concerned that the increased number of visitors will detract from the wilderness experience and damage the rock formations.
The BLM is asking for public input on the following: Whether to increase the number of visitors and permits or not; if permits were increased, how many would be a reasonable number; and what should be the total daily cap for visitors.
Asked whether the outcome had already been decided much like the BLM’s decision on the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments, a BLM spokesperson said the agency is genuinely interested in the public’s input. One thing for sure is that if the public doesn’t comment, the process will proceed anyway.
To review the plan, those interested may download or view documents associated with this proposal at: https://go.usa.gov/xmnHg
Written comments can be mailed to:
345 East Riverside Drive
St. George, UT 84790
Email comments to: [email protected]
The deadline to comment is June 21, 2019.
Once the public input has been received, the BLM will “assess the appropriate level of environmental analysis and documentation.” This means that the analysis could result in an environmental assessment, which would involve more public input or any other lesser levels of environmental compliance with less opportunity for public input.
Theoretically, if the planning process does not identify a need for an EA, the final rule will be issued and implemented more quickly.