An illegal trail | The Salt Lake Tribune.

If the Bureau of Land Management allows San Juan County to legitimize an illegal all-terrain-vehicle trail in Recapture Canyon, it might as well give up even a pretense of enforcing protections for scenic and archaeological treasures in other remote areas.

Making this trail that leads to ancient Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings and relics a federally accepted trail would do irreversible damage to the environment in two ways. It would allow ATV users easy access to these particular ruins and put the artifacts at risk. And it would send an unmistakable message to other renegade ATVers: Hack an illegal trail on public land and there’s a good chance that trail will get the blessing of the BLM.

The two men who blazed this trail were fined $35,000, and the BLM closed the access, which had been built directly over archaeological sites. But now, under pressure from county officials and residents who see no need for federal protections and want to attract more tourists on all-terrain vehicles, the agency is considering reopening the trail.

That would be disastrous. Too many ATV users, the trail-busters being two good examples, believe the outdoors belong only to them and they have a right to do anything they please once they climb aboard their motorized vandals. Reopening an illegal trail to take even more riders of these potentially destructive vehicles closer to ancient dwellings and relics is simply asking for trouble. With its limited enforcement abilities, BLM would not be able to monitor use and restrict it to responsible users.

The mentality of the rogue ATV users and those who want even more access to Utah’s backcountry is evidenced by the “Wanted, Dead or Alive” posters they have put up near the canyon, threatening members of the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a group based in Durango, Colo., that has been fighting for more protection of archaeological sites.

We agree with Rose Chilcoat, associate director of the Great Old Broads, who asked,”Why on earth would BLM legitimize … a criminal act …? It’s a little like giving the bank robbers the money they stole.”

The damage done by the trail-busters will cost about $300,000 to repair. Access legally cannot be allowed until that repair work is done, so there is time, if BLM closely monitors the area to prevent more vandalism, for environmentalists, tribal officials and archaeologists to persuade the federal agency to keep the trail closed permanently.

If they fail, the eventual cost to these irreplaceable treasures and the public who owns them, will be much higher.

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