View Full Version : Jeeps and Dust

06-01-2006, 04:47 PM
Stirring Up Dust in the Desert

One source of increased dust in the atmosphere is the popularity of motorized desert recreation. ATVs, like these in Utah, tear up ground cover that helps keep dust close to the ground.

Dust Series, Part 1

Travel with scientist Thomas Painter into the Rocky Mountains to look for dust in the snow pack.
May 30, 2006
Dust Storms Threaten Snow Packs

Ecologist Jayne Belnap works for the U.S. Geological Survey. She says drought, human activity and even deer are responsible for increases of atmospheric dust from the desert.

This Utah hillside is rare in that it still retains a healthy crust of cyanobacteria, lichens and moss. The crust limits the amount of dust that blows off the hillside.

The dusty effects of a five-year drought are obvious to Utah drivers. Scientists say it may be the beginning of a 30-year megadrought pattern.

Morning Edition, May 31, 2006 · Billions of tons of dust blow off of arid lands every year -- and blow around the world. These dust storms make people sick, they kill coral reefs and they melt mountain snow packs.

In the Southwestern United States, dust storms are largely the result of tires and hooves, which are destroying natural biological barriers that once kept dust on the ground. But there are people studying, and trying to protect, the layer that can protect the planet from dust storms.

Jayne Belnap is one of those people. She's an ecologist, and you might call her Doctor Dust. She works for the U.S. Geological Survey in Moab, Utah. Recently, she gave Colorado dust researcher Thomas Painter a tour of the red-rock desert she calls home.

They meet in a parking lot off Interstate 70. Painter rolls down the window.

"Did we hit this day right, or what?" he proclaims.

"Yeah, this is a perfect day, except it rained, " Belnap says. "Which is why the soil is only sort of dusty."

She then whips out a photo of the local highway during a real dust storm.

"You really can't see anything. And the only thing they did was put 'Warning: dust storm' signs on the highway," Belnap says. "What exactly does that mean? What am I supposed to do when I hit this wall of black, knowing full well that if you slow down you're going to get rear-ended, and if you speed up, you're going to die!"

Belnap is a natural optimist facing a pretty grim situation. She says blowing dust actually leads to deaths on the local highway -- and it creates havoc around the world.

"That havoc can cause the death of coral reefs in the Carribean. That havoc can be people in Beijing dying of respiratory diseases," Belnap says. "There’s a lot of things in dust that are not great things to have floating around in the air."

And dust also settles on the snow. In fact, that's what Painter studies, and what has drawn him out of the Rockies to meet Belnap.

"This year we had a major dust deposition event across Colorado and into Wyoming, that created snow melt at a time that snow melt doesn't occur," Painter explains.

Dust makes the snow melt faster, and that affects how fast the water pours out of the mountains and feeds the rivers and reservoirs of the West. Belnap says dust is the desert's little gift to the mountains.

"Isn't it nice of us to share?" she jokes.

Belnap takes Painter down the road to look at the geological formation known as Manco shale. It was a sea bed in the time of the dinosaurs. It's loaded with naturally occurring mercury and arsenic, and other nasties that blow when the wind picks it up.

Heading toward Moab, a one-time uranium mining center that is now a tourist town, there's a lot of dust in the air.

"We just had a jeep safari this weekend, which is when 10,000 jeeps show up here, and ATVs, and they run all over the place," Belnap said. "When we have activities like that, and it doesn't rain for a while, we get huge dust production off the area."

Jeeps are still streaming out of town as Belnap drives down the road. When they're off road, Jeeps break up a living barrier in the soil, a biological crust, that normally keeps dust from blowing. Cattle break up that crust, too. So do deer, which are much more abundant these days because cattlemen have made water available everywhere. And a prolonged drought in the area has made a bad problem even worse.

Belnap pulls off the highway and drives to a place that's a natural experiment in restoring these lands. It's a buffer zone around an airport, so it's been fenced off from cattle and jeeps for the past 20 years.

"This area is actually pretty stable," Belnap said. "You can see the physical crust on the surface. It looks like a mudflat, but it's not blowing away."

But the surface is still missing something important. It was disturbed many decades ago, but before then, it was crusted with lichens and mosses and held together by a kind of soil bacteria called cyanobacteria. Belnap has a nickname for these life forms.

"Let's go see crusties. They're the cutest things ever," Belnap says.

It's not as dramatic as the natural arches nearby, but the red and green striped rock is still a classic scene of the American West. This rocky hillside has somehow managed to escape the onslaught of cattle and jeeps.

Taking care not to disturb the soil, Belnap scrambles up the rocks and picks up a sample.

"So here's a nicely developed soil crust. All those different colors are different lichens," Belnap says. "We have mosses in here as well, we have cyanobacteria in here as well, and this is absolutely stable from both wind and water erosion."

The cyanobacteria themselves are microscopic, but they create strong threads. Belnap holds up a clump of dirt. Another clump dangles from a tiny thread. These threads do an amazing job of holding the soil together, she says.

The cyanobacteria grow quickly, but the mosses and lichens do not. Belnap says it has taken hundreds of years for them to grow here. And in the Mojave Desert, it took more like a thousand years.

That has huge implications for what Belnap really cares about: restoring the biological crust on these disturbed lands. She wants to stop the blowing dust.

"I hate giving up all my friends, and I'm giving up a lot of them by saying this, but if we're going to use these lands, we're going to have to find some happy medium," Belnap said.

That happy medium would be to let the fast-growing cyanobacteria return to the soil and spread their threads to hold it in place, but not to expect the return of mosses and lichens. Even reaching that happy medium could be difficult.

The situation in the West has gotten much worse in the past five years, since drought set in. And climatologists say there are signs this is just the start of a 30-year pattern known as a megadrought. The research on crusties was based on their life during wetter years.

"We don't have any idea of how what we now know applies to the future, if it's going to be a lot drier," Belnap says.

But, she adds, if we are going to do something about dust, the biological crust here really does need a break from hooves and tires.


Sandee McCullen
06-01-2006, 11:19 PM
How about HIKING BOOTS????

Sedona Jeep School
06-02-2006, 06:54 AM
This article is just another example of the stigma of motorized recreation.

10,000 Jeeps is an exaggeration. Not to mention that 99.9% of 4-wheelers never leave the established trails. Mountain bikers are actually the biggest problem BY FAR for leaving the established trails and riding over crust.

And deer?!? Interesting that she quickly jumps on Jeeps and ATV's (relatively recent activities) who, for the most part, stay on established roads and trails, versus cattle (over 100 years + of impact) who scatter willy-nilly over the landscape, 24-7, eating everything, and introducing non-indigenous weeds. Anyone been through Agua Fria National Monument? We call it Caca de Vaca National Monument. I am not trying to run down on ranching, but it is an OBVIOUS fact that bad range management has done far more long term damage than OHV. Yet, she barely mentions cattle, instead making it an incredible anti-motorized argument.

How about water? This drought-cycle is mentioned, but nothing about how water use by a population thousands of times what the natural environment would withstand could possibly affect dust. :confused:

Bottom line: a pathetic, incomplete opinion, with little or no scientific value, balance, or solutions.

06-02-2006, 10:14 AM
Hey I mountainbike so I disagree:D
Kidding...I always stay on the trail, unless I crash:D

06-02-2006, 10:17 AM
Bottom line: a pathetic, incomplete opinion, with little or no scientific value, balance, or solutions.
Its part of the drum roll of those jumping on the band wagon of Owl Hores movie, http://www.virtualjeepclub.com/showthread.php?t=13884

As far as Jeeps and dust. Yes its there and it comes off of main roads and is created no matter the speed. I personaly I hate dust and untill you have been in a military convoy that has several 100 rigs from M-1 tanks to Jeeps you cannot imagine the dust. The road dirt/dust will take on the properties of water. It will have waves, splash when you walk thru it and cover your body to the point that you cannot tell white guys from black guys. Its horrible. We will use cigarettes to filter the air in order to breathe. So I will avoid dust and drive as slow as needed to keep it out and off of me.

Where I do see dust, and here I must point a finger, is the ATVs. First they can do something we as Jeepers cannot...drive fast on or off road. Go off road and the Jeeps create little or no dust at all, even in sorties of 25 or more rigs.

06-02-2006, 11:45 AM
Look at when they ask, "What am I suppose to do when I hit this wall of black...." They don't understand that when you hit one of these dust storms crossing a highway that you need to get off the road as far as possible, turn off your lights and keep your foot OFF of the brake pedal. So someone behind you doesn't think that you are on the road and they decide to follow.
Along I-10 between Casa Grande and Eloy and again between Willcox and the NM state line, plus State Route 287, and 87 between Coolidge, Eloy and Casa Grande most of those dust storms are because of farming, mostly freshly plowed fields that have not been planted yet or have not seen a crop in years.

06-02-2006, 01:21 PM
So in other words, if we quit producing crops and did not eat veggies and fruit we would stop the dust storsm.... note to self eat more beef, chicken, pork and fish... Sorry, bad attempt at being funny...

I find it funny too, it is a very small fraction of the open areas that any tire tracks are on, and if you think of it, most areas that even the animals that have enough weight to break this barrier cover is still minor. Not nearly enough to cause the dust storms. So what truly causes them? Wind.

Wind blows, picks up dust, pushes things in front of it across the land, including the barriers that are on the land to stop the dust, whcih break those barriers and pick up the dust anyway. So why are we trying to stop dust, shouldn't we be trying to stop the wind?

yellow bad boy
06-03-2006, 05:31 PM
good one stop the wind lol i work on a jobsite in golden valley with 50 earthmoving scrapers and probably 15 track type tractors, they have 5 water pulls that cannot keep up, lets all blame roades homes outta vegas for this.... the state has started shutting down the job if the wind gets over 20 mph... because the job is 5 miles from hwy 68 between kingman and bullhead... try putting a head on an engine while working thru 4 dustdevils....

06-05-2006, 06:45 AM
Written by John Stewart, UFWDA Director of Environmental Affairs. Sent as a note from a similar inquiry. Thought it was appropriate here.


The below email referencing the National Public Radio broadcast has
received considerable attention from recreation interests.

The content of the broadcast is very negative. The broadcast is
important to recreation interests from a broader perspective than the
localized reference to Moab.

Key elements are missing or in error with the broadcast. Most
notable, the broadcast addresses a local issue and alludes that it is
a global problem. And, the implication that "...ten thousand jeeps
are going all over the place and tearing up the crypto soils, causing
dust..." is an emotional statement lacking full and complete

Some background is necessary as the subject does relate to issues
that do impact recreation. Dust is a growing issue; specifically in
relation to air quality as regulated by the Environmental Protection
Agency through the various Air Quality Management Districts.

Specifically, there are EPA regulations in effect that provide a
"PM-10" (Particulate Matter - 10 microns) standard that AQMDs are
required to attain. Severe fines are levied for Inability to attain
the required air quality standard.

As such, the issue of "dust" is becoming more important as it is yet
another issue being raised as a "cause" for environmental
degradation. It is part of a list including exhaust from diesel
engines and smoke from power plants. All are subject to EPA
regulations for PM-10 and other emission standards.

With respect to recreation interests, United Four Wheel Drive
Associations is monitoring the growing issue of "dust" and how
non-attainment of air quality due to PM-10 standards will impact
recreation opportunity.

UFWDA supports appropriate emission controls for motor vehicles that
will provide reduction in tail-pipe emissions.

UFWDA is concerned with proposals to limit access to public lands
with the stated purpose of reducing PM-10 measurements.

Many of the areas where "dust" has been addressed as an issue are
arid lands of the southwest. The desert environs are noted for their
lack of moisture, heat, and wind. All factors contribute to
generation of one item: air-borne dust that often raises the PM-10

It needs to be noted that various industry and agriculture activities
are also noted contributors to increased PM-10 levels. As such,
UFWDA has met with government and industry officials where concern
for excessive regulations have been discussed. Additional
information about this and related issues can be researched at:

06-05-2006, 12:10 PM
Fine and based on that article, immediately following not allowing me to drive in the desert anymore I demand they hunt down and kill every single deer, because the deer are causing dust problems too, the article says. And since they are most likely anti-gun, they have my permission to use a cross bow, as long as the bow and the arrows are not made of old-growth timber AND with the stipulation that no Fan-Winged Leif Mosquitos are injured by flying arrows or else I'll petition the Center for Biological Diversity to sue them into oblivion.