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Policy Statements » Letters from the President:

Mr. Mike DeKeyrel
Bureau of Land Management
Utah State Office, Attn.: RS 2477
P.O. Box 45155
Salt Lake City, UT 84145-0155

May 7, 2004

Dear Mr. DeKeyrel:

The Ecological Society of America (ESA) is the nation’s professional organization of ecological scientists. Our collective membership of 8,000 covers a wide range of expertise including microbial, desert, aquatic, and plant ecology, to name just a few. As the Society’s President, I write to voice our concerns about the “disclaimer of interest” currently before the Bureau of Land Management regarding the State of Utah. Relinquishing federal control over 99 miles of mostly gravel road across Utah’s west desert will set a disturbing precedent that could have serious consequences for the nation’s public lands.

ESA has previously gone on record about its concern over the Disclaimer Rule and the revival of Revised Statute 2477. We continue to believe that application of this rule has the potential to exact a serious negative impact on United States federal lands. In particular, we remain concerned that this rule is not subject to standards or criteria for environmental protection. If the federal government cedes control of the 99-mile stretch in question in the State of Utah, this state could widen, harden, or otherwise alter this rugged path in ways that could adversely impact native wildlife and habitat. Most importantly, this decision could lead to similar detrimental activities in other parts of Utah and in other states.

Scientific knowledge about effects of roads includes:

Biological Invasion: Roads have been shown to be pathways along which invasive plants and animals, many of which are non-native, can expand their ranges. Exotic species often thrive in the environments created by roads and can also be inadvertently transported by vehicles. Roads create open edges to rangeland ecosystems, which can make species more vulnerable to pest epidemics and invasion by nonnative species, such as Cheatgrass.

Habitat Fragmentation: Roads break up local populations of smaller animals and plants, in some cases bringing about local extinctions. Roads can alter the behavior and movement patterns of animals, such as the Columbia Spotted Frog, which is threatened in Utah and also occurs in the state’s west desert.

Human-caused fire: Most fires are caused by people and over half of these begin in the vicinity of roads. While fire is a natural process, the frequency and timing of fires plays an important role in how the landscape responds.

Water Degradation: Roads contribute sediment to water bodies such as streams which can degrade the water quality, damage aquatic life, and spoil drinking water available for human consumption. In addition, soil compaction occurs when roads are built, disrupting the natural flow paths of water. This can be especially damaging in a desert environment, as areas located down slope of a road are deprived of run-off water. Shrub density may decline by as much as 50 percent, as less water reaches and infiltrates the ground.

We ask that the agency carefully consider the potential negative results that could occur from ceding federal control without environmental or public review.

Thank you for your consideration and please contact Nadine Lymn (Nadine@esa.org; 202.833.8773) of our Public Affairs Office if the Ecological Society of America or its members can provide you with any additional information that may be helpful.

Sincerely,


William H. Schlesinger
President


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