Sometimes a Poor Notion - UT BHA Opposes Book Cliffs Highway

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Elk camp at the head of East Canyon. This area would be paved over if the highway becomes a reality. 

Once again, the Seven County Infrastructure Coalition (SCIC) has proposed to construct a highway known as the Eastern Utah Regional Connection through the Book Cliffs. The proposed highway would connect to an existing stretch of road paved recently, which currently ends at the Uinta-Grand County line. The preferred route of the proposed highway extension would connect Seep Ridge, cross the Book Cliffs divide, and wind its way down East Canyon taking with it a large portion of the Three Canyon Ranch before moving into the Westwater drainage and eventually reaching Interstate-70. 

SCIC states that, “The absence of a developed transportation corridor between the Uinta Basin and I-70 has long been a limiting factor for recreation, tourism, energy development, and land management efforts. The existing unpaved roads are insufficient to accommodate the traffic that would otherwise use the route to move people and products.” Contrary to SCIC’s claim, however, is the fact that two transportation corridors already exist in the area: the first is located approximately 20 miles to the East along State Highway 139 in Colorado; the second is located roughly the same distance to the West along US 191 near Helper and Nine Mile Canyon. Most accounts estimate that the newly-proposed route would cut only several minutes of drive time off the two existing routes due to the area’s steep, harsh terrain. Additionally, the new highway would bypass existing communities such as Helper and Price, Utah as well as Dinosaur and Rangely, Colorado, which all rely on tourism associated with visitors traveling between Yellowstone National Park and the “Mighty Five” national parks in southern Utah.  

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Glassing at first light in the Book Cliffs. 

The proposed highway enhancement project is estimated to cost Utah taxpayers over $350 million and would pave approximately 35 miles of roadway through one of the richest big game hunting units in the state (cost projections from 2015). The creation of this highway would transect the Book Cliffs across the divide thus acting as a significant barrier between critical summering and wintering ranges for a host of migratory and resident species that live in the area such as mule deer, elk, bison, antelope, and bighorn sheep. In addition to acting as a limiting factor for historic migration routes and increasing vehicle-wildlife collisions,[1] it is well-documented that this highway will further reduce and degrade suitable wildlife habitat as big game species “exhibit avoidance and behavioral changes in response to surface disturbances and associated traffic, noise, and human activity.”[2]

Due to much vocal opposition from Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, Grand County, and several other sportsmen and conservation organizations, SCIC has tabled the unnecessary and ill-advised Eastern Utah Regional Connection as of late December 2020. However, we believe it is imperative that all sportsmen and recreationalists familiar with the truly-unique and remote Book Cliffs region must continue to speak out and fight against this and other proposals, which will reemerge as has occurred numerous times in the recent past. The Book Cliffs Roadless Area is pristine country for anyone to enjoy who values the backcountry experience. Let us all stay vigilant of future efforts to restart the project and take swift, vocal action against those efforts when they occur. Email us at [email protected] for more information on how you can get involved in our efforts in the region.  

[1] D. D. Olson, J. A. Bissonette, P. C. Cramer, K. D. Bunnell, D. C. Coster, and P. J. Jackson, “How does variation in winter weather affect deer-vehicle collision rates?” Wildlife Biology, 01-Mar-2015. [Online]. Available: https://bioone.org/journals/wildlife-biology/volume-21/issue-2/wlb.00043/How-does-variation-in-winter-weather-affect-deervehicle-collision-rates/10.2981/wlb.00043.full.

[2] J. A. Bissonette and S. Rosa, “An evaluation of a mitigation strategy for deer-vehicle collisions,” Wildlife Biology, 2012. [Online]. Available: https://doi.org/10.2981/11-122.

For further information on recent developments of the project see these recent articles:

“A controversial highway through the Book Cliffs is tabled for now due to local opposition” (KUER, Dec. 18, 2020)

“Book Cliffs Highway project suspended” (Moab Sun News, Dec. 18, 2020)

“Book Cliffs Highway effort suspended; backing funds to be reallocated” (The Times-Independent, Dec. 18, 2020

“Highway project through Book Cliffs in eastern Utah suspended” (The Salt Lake Tribune, Dec. 22, 2020)

About Trisha Hedin

I'm an avid climber and hunter, driven by the most remote places. There is nothing better than hunting elk in the remote reaches of the American West.

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