By Jeff Deeney
Allow me to introduce myself. I'm the leader of a renegade gang of outlaw bikers responsible for devastating vast expanses of fragile desert ecosystems and terrorizing the general populace. At least that's what the folks in Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) would have you believe.
For the past few years a group of dedicated motorcyclists from all corners of the country have been using the Internet to help organize an annual riding trip to Utah's canyonlands. As you might imagine, our group consists largely of computer professionals, engineers, and even a few physicians. As the designated "non-organizer", I suppose you could think of me as Marlin Brando with thick glasses and a pocket protector.
This year SUWA got wind of our plans and planted some observers on our electronic mailing list. For six months, they quietly observed our communications, taking names, dates, planned routes, and even license plate numbers. Little did I know that on the same day I left my home in Colorado to drive to Utah, Ken Rait of SUWA was sending a fax to the BLM office in Utah demanding (see copy of his letter in this issue) that this illegal "moto-cross event" be stopped.
On our first day of riding, we were returning to camp via the Goblin Valley road when we met BLM ranger Ruben Conde. Imagine my surprise when we discovered he was asking for me by name. We removed our helmets and Ruben politely explained that "some environmental group" had intercepted our electronic messages and led his office to believe that we were an outlaw biker group bent on destroying the desert while racing through closed areas. Ruben's office had already decided that these claims were likely false, but that they should send someone out to check on us anyway.
What the BLM discovered was a group of responsible riders (Editors Note: Please notice the "responsible" headgear of the rider to the right ;-) gathered together in the Utah desert to enjoy a long weekend of legitimate trail riding, exploring, and appreciation of the splendor around them. Ruben had already stopped by our camp and had a long conversation with some of the other folks in our group. After seeing our quiet, spotless camp and talking with others, Ruben quickly realized that we were nothing more than a group of good friends getting together for a perfectly legal trail ride on designated routes.
I told Ruben that I wished someone had given me a phone call to let me know their concerns. We could have easily avoided meeting like this. I'm certain that SUWA sent their fax at the last minute just so I couldn't be contacted until I reached Utah. Hence, Ruben was sent out on his day off to investigate. I imagine that the taxpayers footed the bill for his overtime pay.
While exchanging cards, shaking our hands and thanking us for our help, Ranger Conde commented that when he meets experienced riders like ourselves, he knows that we're not the one's who create problems. I think the abundance of gray hair (or lack of hair) in our group also showed that we were about the furthest thing from a bunch of rowdy outlaw bikers.
After returning home, I submitted a Freedom of Information Act Request to the BLM and obtained copies of the SUWA correspondence (See the attached SUWA fax and BLM response). The reaction from our group of riders was a mixture of outrage and amusement at the distorted concept that SUWA must have of us. With tongue firmly planted in cheek, one of the riders suggested that we name ourselves the "Internet Riders of the First Desert Uprising". As a direct result of the SUWA harassment, our small group quickly raised over $1000 for the Utah Trail Machines Association (UTMA) legal defense fund. We realize that this is but a pittance compared to the bankroll of SUWA and the Sierra Club, but we are confident that it will be put to good use.
Back home on the mailing list, we had some interesting discussions with the SUWA folks who had been eavesdropping. They were told that they could remain on the list as long as they were willing to participate in open dialog and engage in meaningful discussions of our differences. They wanted nothing of the sort and quietly disappeared.
In SUWA's Fall newsletter, we received brief mention under the headline "ORV'ers Ticketed by Information Superhighway". They went on to report how they had prevented a large "moto-cross" event where participants were "planning on zipping through areas posted as closed by BLM". Despite the misleading headline, they neglected to mention that our activities were found to be perfectly legal and that no tickets were issued. Once again, SUWA demonstrates that truth and facts should never get in the way of proving their point.
The BLM office in Moab has since reported that as a result of this wild goose chase, SUWA has further eroded their credibility with the regional BLM offices. Until SUWA can realize that we must all work together and find ways in which we can share our public lands, they will continue to be their own worst enemy.
Even if you never visit Utah, I would encourage you to keep abreast of the pending Utah Wilderness bills. Now that they have the California Desert, the environmentalists want to lock us out of vast tracts of public lands in Utah. If they get their way with HB 1500, 5.7 million acres of public lands will be closed to multiple use. Fortunately, a sensible congressional delegation from Utah is sponsoring HB 1745; a bill that proposes a moderate wilderness designation of 1.8 million acres. The original draft of HB 1745 also contained "hard release" language that would prevent further consideration of wilderness designation on Wilderness Study Areas that did not attain wilderness status in HB 1745. I would encourage everyone to call or visit with your elected representatives to assure that a sensible Wilderness bill is passed.
If you have Internet access, a good way to keep abreast of the Utah wilderness issues is to utilize the resources of our well organized opponents. On the Web, you can get current information at either http://acs1.byu.edu/~envirobio/suwa.html or at http://acs1.byu.edu/~wildweb/welcome.html.
Note from the Grand Poobah: You can check out more pictures of this excursion at the moab web site.