Sagebrush Coalition Pushes Back on Expanding Canyonlands

Dec 10, 2012

After a well-attended public meeting, the Moab Sagebrush Coalition has mounted a petition drive, and a boycott of businesses signed the letter asking President Obama to create a Greater Canyonlands. Among those actively involved is San Juan County Commissioner Phil Lynam.

"Is there an organized effort to boycott these businesses? I would say no, there’s not an organized effort, but there’s a feeling on the part of people that they’ve overstepped. And we don’t want to try and coerce them out of their freedom to request a monument, but the language they used in their petition to the President just states outlandish things. Like that Utah wants to pave 40,000 miles of dirt routes. It’s just not the case, so if they would come at it with an earnest, intelligent action, I can recognize where they’re coming from. It is beautiful country."

The boycott list is being circulated with the help of national advocacy groups for motorized access, including Rocky Mountain Dirt Riders, the Off Road Business Association, and the Motorcycle Industry Council. Moab resident Jeremy McElhaney supports the boycott.

"That idea literally has been around longer than our country’s existence. So it makes sense to spend your money, because you have that right, to spend your own money wherever you want, it makes sense to spend your money with people who have the same ideology, whether that’s political or religious in many instances, especially in a state like Utah."

The boycott list being circulated on the Internet includes scores of Moab and Utah businesses, as well as giants in outdoor gear: Patagonia, Mountain Hardwear, Teva, Camelbak, Osprey, and Burton Snowboards. Along with off-roaders, the issue has galvanized advocates of mining and energy development, and those who want Utah to reclaim federal lands.

I feel very threatened on this. I think it’s a disaster. I would think that the President wouldn’t even be interested in doing this. But who knows?

That’s Ray Tibbets, a lifelong Moab resident, former rancher and local historian.

This is well over a million acres. It was the same way with the Kaiparowitz Plateau that they ended up doing with President Clinton.  And it was a terrible thing, you know. It just doesn’t make sense, and our governor is against this thing. Everybody else is here. Since ’69 I’ve been fighting road issues and so forth here, and this ties right in with it. There’s more roads in this inter-river area than you can shake a stick at, from San Juan, all the way through here. We have people come far and near, that come here with their play toys, their four-wheelers and bikes and whatever. And they ride on these roads.

A Greater Canyonlands would limit development of coal, oil, gas and potash.  Jeremy McElhaney believes that, while tourism is important, there are areas around Canyonlands appropriate for drilling and mining.

This could be an economic engine in a section of Utah that is very sparsely populated. There are places in the Book Cliffs that are really full of tar sands and also oil shale. So there’s places inside BLM and other federally owned land that can be used for mineral extraction.

With the battle lines drawn, Ray Tibbets doesn’t see any way to compromise with conservationists.

You can not make a deal with the devil, and this is what I’m saying. The ones that signed this petition, you can’t make a deal with them. These people have been trying to tie this country up for 40 years.

Commissioner Lynam said he wants all locals to weigh in, including the Navajos in San Juan County.

It would have to happen from a local perspective on up, and not from a top down mandate, especially an executive order. But from the conservationists' standpoint they feel like they can never do anything on the local level, so they have to do it top down. So you’ve got those that are saying, as local people we have liberties and rights, and we’re going to stand up for them. That’s where the clash is going to happen, and maybe it’s going to be a long, drawn-out clash.

Sagebrush Coalition petitions have been circulating in Moab, Blanding, Green River and Hanksville. The petition will be presented to the state and to Utah’s federal representatives.