Tribune Editorial: The Mighty Five are not for your noisy toys, boys

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) In this May 2013 photo mountain bikers near the end of their 75-mile trip as they make the steep climb on the Mineral Bottom Road after riding the White Rim Trail in Canyonlands National Park. ATVs will be allowed on certain roads in the five national parks in Utah under a new rule from the National Park Service that went through without public comment.

They're going to leave the road, and they're not going to get caught.

That is the reality posed by the National Park Service’s shortsighted decision to allow all-terrain vehicles on park roads starting in about two weeks.

It's only a question of when and how often, not if.

On its face, this change doesn't sound like too much to ask. It’s just allowing ATVs that are legal on county roads also be legal on county roads inside national parks. They still have to stick to the roads. No harm. No foul.

That would be true for many if not most the drivers of these vehicles. But it won’t be true for all of them. In remote places like the Maze in Canyonlands National Park, a park ranger may pass once a week. But the opportunities will abound to go tearing across the desert, leaving behind tire tracks that will remain for decades in the cryptobiotic soil crust. It takes only a handful of law benders to deface a mountain.

Loosening the rules ignores a situation that all sides of the public lands debate can agree upon: The national parks don’t have enough money to take care of what they have. Adding another management burden — namely keeping vehicles designed to go off road from going off road — will leave less money for maintaining the parks for the 99 percent of visitors who don’t want to travel by ATV.

And even when the ATVs keep to the roads, that 99 percent will have to put up with more poorly muffled internal-combustion racket piercing the quiet of the parks.

How much is at risk here? Knowing that would take research and public outreach, the processes that the National Park Service has used for decades to make sure any changes preserve the parks’ natural integrity. In this case, the acting regional director of the National Park Service (aren’t they all “acting” at Interior these days?) found no reason to do that.

Who prompted this? ATV industry groups and Utah’s patron saint of poor ATV decisions, state Rep. Phil Lyman.

Both the ATV groups and Lyman wrote letters to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt (also acting) making the argument that keeping the machines out of the parks amounts to “discrimination.”

No. Current regulation does not deny anyone access. There aren’t ATV drivers who don’t also own cars or trucks. They just have to drive those on park roads and leave the ATVs behind.

Trying to turn people who drive $10,000 toys into victims of discrimination would be laughable if it wasn’t so insulting to people who suffer real discrimination.

After hearing an earful from people in Moab who don’t want the change, Rep. John Curtis says he’s willing to take it up with the park service. But he wants local elected officials to pass resolutions in opposition.

By then the carnage will have begun. Good for the congressman for offering to insert himself, but it shouldn’t be the locals who have to make their case. He should start by telling the acting bureaucrats how to act.

Correction: The acting Secretary of the Interior is David Bernhardt. The original version had an incorrect name.