A bill to authorize the use of off-highway vehicles in certain areas of the Capitol Reef National Park, Utah
STATEMENT OF MICHAEL A. CALDWELL, ACTING ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES, AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, REGARDING S. 1526, A BILL TO AUTHORIZE THE USE OF OFF-HIGHWAY VEHICLES IN CERTAIN AREAS OF THE CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK, UTAH.
JUNE 23, 2021
Chairman King, Ranking Member Daines, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 1526, a bill to authorize the use of off-highway vehicles in certain areas of the Capitol Reef National Park, Utah.
The Department strongly opposes S. 1526.
S. 1526 would require the National Park Service to allow street legal off-highway vehicles on the portions of Burr Trail Road, Cathedral Road, Hartnet Road, Highway 24, Notom Bullfrog Road, Polk Creek Road, Oil Ranch Road, and Baker Ranch Road that are located within the boundaries of Capitol Reef National Park.
Capitol Reef National Park, located in south-central Utah, is known for its geologic resources. The cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold, a geologic monocline, extends almost 100 miles. The park was established by Presidential Proclamation as a national monument in 1937 to preserve the narrow canyons displaying evidence of ancient sand dune deposits, and geologic and scientific resources. It was designated a national park by Congress in 1971. Currently, all roads within the boundary of the park are closed to off-highway vehicles defined by Utah Criminal and Traffic Code, Section 42-22-2, as All-terrain type I and All-terrain type II vehicles. This definition includes any vehicle registered as a street legal all-terrain vehicle or utility terrain vehicle (ATV/UTV) and/or eligible for a state ATV/UTV registration sticker. Motorcycles designed, equipped, and licensed for highway use are not included in this restriction.
The decision to maintain road closures within the boundary of Capitol Reef National Park is based on an updated determination by the park in June 2020. The determination concluded that the addition of off-road vehicle traffic on park roads would result in damages to park resources. This direction is also supported under the existing general management plan for the park which reflects the value of undisturbed soils and vegetation to park resources and emphasizes the need to protect them from damage.
Off-highway vehicles are designed and marketed for the purpose of off-road travel, and they are uniquely capable of easily leaving the road and traveling cross-country. If these roads were to be opened to ATV/UTV use, we would expect an increase in illegal off-road activity and would require a greater law enforcement presence. Additionally, motor vehicles driven off of roads disturb soil and damage vegetation, which leads to soil erosion and damage to archeological resources. This damage can adversely affect wildlife habitat and the scenic quality of the natural landscape.
More than 70 percent of Capitol Reef National Park consists of recommended wilderness and is managed as wilderness in accordance with National Park Service Management Policies. Because the recommended wilderness boundary closely parallels many of the park’s roads, we are concerned that the wilderness qualities would be put at risk by S. 1526. We are also concerned with noise from ATV/UTV use and specifically, about the potential impacts to Mexican Spotted Owl nesting sites. The recovery plan for the endangered Mexican Spotted Owl, issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2012, limits noise to 69 dBA within 165 feet of a nesting site or within the entire protected activity center (PAC) if nesting sites are not known during breeding season (March 1 – August 31). The park has nine PACs, five of which are within one mile of the park roads listed in the legislation. We do not have data to confirm impacts to the Mexican Spotted Owl in these five PACs. Noise from ATV/UTV use would also negatively impact the visitor experience in areas that are managed for quiet recreational use.
Lastly, Capitol Reef National Park is a designated Class I area under the Clean Air Act. In Utah, ATV/UTVs are exempt from emissions testing. Increased emissions from off-road vehicles entering the park have the potential to adversely affect the health of park visitors, park wildlife, and park vegetation because of increased atmospheric hydrocarbon concentrations. Use of off-highway vehicles on non-paved park roads may also increase dust emissions, which impact air quality and visibility.
The Department offers varied opportunities for recreational uses on lands under its jurisdiction. The Bureau of Land Management, for example, allows ATV/UTV use on lands adjacent to Capitol Reef National Park that it manages. Similarly, the U.S. Forest Service and the State of Utah manage land adjacent to the park that are currently open to ATV/UTV use on and off roads. By maintaining existing ATV/UTV closures within Capitol Reef National Park, we are providing the public an opportunity to experience a different kind of recreational use not found on other public lands in the vicinity.
Chairman King, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.