PHOENIX -- The Sonoran Desert National Monument is considering banning off-road vehicle traffic altogether because of the resource damage and user conflicts, according to internal memos released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). Agency officials cannot cope with the "exponential" increase in recreational demands on the nearly half-million acre federal preserve south of Phoenix - particularly abusive off-roading by excessively large groups.
Minutes from an internal "Emergency Resources Protection Meeting" of the Sonoran Desert National Monument staff held on March 5, 2007 and other agency records, obtained by PEER from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under the Freedom of Information Act, indicate that -
- Growing problems prompted the official Resource Advisory Council to recommend a total ban on off-road vehicles entering the Monument;
- Attempts to restore damaged areas are being thwarted by repeated improper off-road intrusion. One BLM staff member noted that "volunteers are not enough to restore all the damaged areas. Volunteers are also getting tired of seeing their work destroyed…"
- In 2006, there were 73 illegal off-road "incursions" into the three congressionally designated wilderness areas inside the Monument (the North and South Maricopa Mountains and Table Top). All told, Arizona BLM recorded 280 wilderness violations last year by off-roaders.
The Sonoran Desert National Monument is an increasingly popular recreational destination in between the burgeoning populations of Phoenix and Tucson. One of the fastest growing components of Monument visitation is off-road traffic, allowing ever bigger groups to damage remote and sensitive areas.
"Reckless off-roaders are trashing Arizona's natural heritage," stated Southwest PEER Director Daniel Patterson, adding that the Sonoran Desert is the most biologically rich of the world's deserts. "America's national monuments must be protected from vandalism and environmental destruction, even if that means keeping off-road vehicles out of monuments." Patterson is an Ecologist who formerly worked with BLM.
The BLM documents cite a wide range of growing headaches arising out of off-road groups, from improper disposal of human waste to the intensive law enforcement presence needed. Unfortunately, the deteriorating situation at Sonoran Desert National Monument is becoming prevalent on public lands across the Southwest, where off-road vehicles are now, by far, the number one law enforcement problem, according to agency statistics compiled by PEER.
"Due to the abuse, it is not surprising that BLM managers are considering an off-road vehicle ban for the Monument," concluded Patterson. "Without effective enforcement it appears doubtful that abusive off-roading on our public lands can be stemmed."
- from PEER