Greens Manufacture User Conflict
By Adena Cook, BlueRibbon Coalition


I just got back from the Canyonlands area of southern Utah. We combined a short vacation with BlueRibbonís spring Board of Directors meeting scheduled in Moab. We spent one day on the Poison Spider Mesa trail. 

It was a trip from which I returned in one piece, with my ATV riding skills much improved. I learned to go up and down steep slick rock, jump and drop down ledges, and recognize faint signs that assured me that I was still on a trail and not lost. 

I was overwhelmed by the vast scenery and variety of sandstone rock, an artistís palette of red, orange, and gold. Nearby, slick rock and ledges were interspersed with sections of sand over which we traveled. Small islands of juniper, pinion, and sage sheltered cactus with vermilion blooms, red Indian paintbrush, and yellow daisies. Farther away were cliffs with unborn arches and tall pillars and spires. I concluded that they were there to hold up the sky. In the distance were the rugged blue snow capped LaSalle Mountains. My adrenaline ebbed into awe. 

Poison Spider Mesa is famous and busy. The trailhead buzzed with bicyclists and motorcycles loading and unloading, and 4Wders preparing to travel up the trail. During our day on the trail, we must have encountered about a dozen bicyclists, about the same number of motorcyclists, and about half a dozen 4Wders. Good cheer and camaraderie abounded. Once encountered then moved on, the other party was swallowed up by the vastness of the landscape, out of sight and gone forever.

I donít know how far we went. Mileage was nothing and experience was everything. We went to an arch, just beyond what appeared to be the top of the mesa. We arrived at the top of the arch. In order to view the actual arch, one had to walk (or ride, for the experts) down steep slick rock to a point below. I rode back the same way and got back to our campsite exhausted, relaxed, and cleansed. 

On this trail, there was no conflict of use. Signs of previous travel were limited to ribbons of tire marks on brief sections of steep slick rock. Carsonite signs marked the trail at crucial points, as did painted markers on the rocks. The landscape overpowered the brief sights and sounds of other people. Faced with the challenge and beauty of the landscape, who could possibly find room in their heart to be hateful? Nobody. 

Yet green groups like the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) have spent millions of dollars manufacturing user conflict. Their purple prose propaganda strives to convince people in distant places who have never been there, never done that that hate and discontent is the norm when motorized and non-motorized use is mixed. They urge people to go out and have a bad day unless the backcountry is limited to their exclusive use. They preach elitism. 

That is user conflict. It takes the form of glossy brochures, and videos. It is accompanied by narratives where every noun is preceded by negative adjective. 

This cant is spread with copious funds to far and distant cities. The resulting manufactured user conflict finds its way back to land managers by the way of postcards and e-mails by the thousands as well as written letters full of ill- informed notions, none of which actually demonstrates on-the-ground conflict of use. 

Iím not here to say that conflict of use does not exist. Unpleasant encounters can and do occur, even among members of the same recreation group. Executive Orders 11644 and 11989 direct land managers to minimize on-the-ground conflict among motorized and non-motorized recreationists. It can be done. 

Land managers donít have to minimize manufactured user conflict that arrives at their door in bushel baskets. They must acknowledge it in the planning process, as they must acknowledge all comments, but they need to recognize where it comes from. They need to recognize that it may have no relationship to what actually occurs on the ground or the conflict of use directives in the executive orders.

I am here to say that in a landscape as vast and spectacular as Poison Spider Mesa where travel, by whatever means, is as arduous and challenging as the scenery is beautiful, it is hard to be rude and hateful. Land managers must recognize that user conflict originates far away from the trailhead, and conflicts of use on the trail are less common than they may realize.

Published June 2001
BlueRibbon Magazine
For additional information contact:
Adena Cook, Public Lands Director
Phone: 208-524-3062; Fax: 208-524-2836

"Leaders are visionaries with a poorly developed sense of fear and no concept of the odds against them....They make things happen." -- Dr. Robert Jarvick