Like many other western states, Utah is deeply conflicted about environmental issues. One of the most conservative states in the nation, Utah has always been very business-oriented, especially toward the historic extractive industries such as mining, logging, and agriculture. Utah has also proved to be very friendly to the military; large portions of northeastern Utah are under Pentagon control as bases, weapons research areas, and munitions dumps.
On the other hand, tourism and high-tech industries are breathing life into Utah's economy. Tourism brings in 18 million visitors a year, making it the single largest employer in Utah. Wasatch Front cities are experiencing a phenomenal boom in population growth and new, low-environmental-impact industry. A large part of the reason for this modern migration is Utah's quality of life—pristine wilderness and world-class outdoor recreation are available right out the back door. The interests of the tourist industry and new residents are often at odds with the interests of the state's traditional power base. The state finds itself in the crosshairs of the battle to save or level the West.
The early Mormon pioneers came from well-watered New York and New England and the rich Midwestern prairies. When they arrived in Utah, they set about transforming the desert, following the scripture that says the desert will blossom as a rose. Brigham Young encouraged this endeavor, saying that God would change the climate, giving more water if the settlers worked to establish agriculture.
So the settlers planted fruit orchards, shade trees, and grass, turning the desert into an oasis. They built dams and created reservoirs. They dug canals, piping water from farther and farther away, turning the desert green.
Utah now has the second highest per-capita water use in the nation, despite having experienced many years of drought and being the second driest state in the United States.
Water conservationists maintain that Utah residents, including state officials in charge of water-use policy, have not let go of 19th-century ideals about water development and conservation. The state's current goal is to cut water use by 25 percent over the next 50 years, which environmentalists see as incredibly wishy-washy.
Meanwhile, many individuals view the drought as a wake-up call and see water conservation and native-plant landscaping as the way of the new Utah pioneer.
All-terrain vehicles (ATVs) or off-road vehicles (ORVs) have gone from being the hobby of a small group of off-road enthusiasts to being one of the fastest growing recreational markets in the country, and these dune-buggies-on-steroids are having a huge impact on public lands. The scope of the issue is easy to measure. In 1979, there were 9,000 ORVs registered in Utah. In 2005, there were 150,000. In addition, the power and dexterity of the machines has greatly increased. Now essentially military-style assault machines that can climb near-vertical cliffs and clamber on any kind of terrain, ORVs are the new "extreme sports" toys of choice, and towns like Moab  are now seeing more visitors coming to tear up the back country on ORVs than to mountain bike. The problem is that the ATVs are extremely destructive to the delicate natural environment of deserts and canyonlands, and the more powerful, roaring, exhaust-belching machines put even the most remote and isolated areas within reach of large numbers of people.
Between the two camps—one which would preserve the public land and protect the ancient human artifacts found in remote canyons, the other which sees public land as a playground to be zipped over at high speed—is the BLM. The Moab BLM office has seemed to favor the ATV set, abdicating its role to protect the land and environment for all. Or so thought an alliance of eight environmental groups called the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) who took the BLM to court to force it to comply with existing laws and create—and enforce—designated ATV trails in wilderness study areas. While lower courts found in favor of the environmental alliance, in 2004 the U.S. Supreme Court reversed the decision. Meanwhile, the Moab area, the San Rafael Swell near Hanksville, and the Vermillion Cliffs near Kanab are seeing unprecedented levels of ORV activity. Groups like the SUWA have regrouped and developed new strategies to force the BLM to shoulder its responsibility for environmental stewardship of public land. For more information see the SUWA website (www.suwa.org ).