BLM Land Use Plans Archives


  • Dirty Devil proposed wilderness, copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.
    May 26th, 2015

    BLM plan designated thousands of miles of ORV routes, placing iconic western landscapes at risk

    SALT LAKE CITY–On Friday, May 22, the United States District Court for the District of Utah issued a long awaited ruling regarding the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Resource Management Plan and Off-Road Vehicle Travel Management Plan for the Richfield field office, specifically directing the agency to complete comprehensive cultural surveys and additional analyses over the next 1-3 years. This “remedy decision” book-ended a November 2013 decision which held that BLM’s plans violated several substantive laws, though the court deferred deciding what steps were needed to fix the plans until a second round of briefing on the appropriate remedy was completed.

    Under the Richfield RMP and ORV Travel Plan, which covers lands between Capitol Reef and Canyonlands National Parks, BLM designated over 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails – enough miles to drive from Los Angeles to New York City and part way back – for ORV use. The BLM did so despite evidence of environmental damage to Utah’s unique redrock landscapes, damage to irreplaceable cultural resources, and conflicts with other public lands visitors.

    A coalition of conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and Earthjustice challenged the Richfield plans in an attempt to stem the ORV damage to Utah’s spectacular public lands. These plans threaten world-renowned southern Utah wilderness landscapes like the Dirty Devil Canyon complex (including Butch Cassidy’s infamous hideout, Robber’s Roost), the Henry Mountains (the last mountain range to be mapped in the lower 48 states) and Factory Butte.  See photos here.

    The court’s decision also raises serious questions about the legality of five other BLM management plans in the eastern half of Utah that suffer from similar legal flaws. The Richfield RMP is just one of six land use plans—covering more than 11 million acres of eastern and southern Utah—that the Interior Department finalized before the Bush administration left office in 2008. Each of the six plans is wildly unbalanced in favor of off-road vehicle use and energy development and threaten Utah’s renowned redrock country. The Obama administration has unfortunately continued to defend these plans, both in court and in practice. Conservationists have challenged all six plans in court.  The Richfield RMP is the first of the six to be litigated.

    “These important decisions flatly reject Utah BLM’s ‘designate trails first, think later’ approach to off-road vehicle management,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “By setting forth strict timelines for BLM to undertake long overdue inventories for cultural sites and prepare necessary environmental analyses, the court has sent a clear message that the status quo is not acceptable. Utah’s remarkable redrock landscapes demand better.”

    “BLM has been ignoring its mandate to minimize environmental harm from ORV abuse since the Nixon administration, when the ORV rules took effect,” said Heidi McIntosh, Managing Attorney of Earthjustice’s Rocky Mountain Office. “The court’s strict deadline is a wake up call that will finally force BLM to do its job and protect this magnificent expanse of scenic redrock country.”

    “This decision reinforces the court’s previous ruling that BLM must take protection of natural and cultural resources seriously,” said Nada Culver, Senior Counsel for The Wilderness Society. “The BLM should stop seeking to avoid its responsibilities and move forward with addressing the serious flaws in these 6 plans, fulfilling its obligations as steward of these 11 million acres of public lands and committing to meaningful conservation.”

    “BLM’s refusal to conduct on-the-ground inventories for cultural resources that are being damaged and destroyed from off-road vehicle use was shocking,” said Bill Hedden, Executive Director of the Grand Canyon Trust.  Federal law requires BLM to do more to protect these irreplaceable cultural treasures and we’re pleased that the judge ordered BLM to do so.”

    Specifically, Judge Kimball:

    Directed BLM to prepare new analyses over the next 1-3 years documenting that the agency’s off-road vehicle designations minimize impacts to a number of specific resources, including wildlife, non-motorized recreation, and riparian areas.

    • Directed BLM to prepare new analyses over the next 1-3 years documenting that the agency’s off-road vehicle designations minimize impacts to a number of specific resources, including wildlife, non-motorized recreation, and riparian areas.
    • Directed BLM to complete intensive, on-the-ground surveys for historic and cultural resources over the next 1-3 years for all designated routes.
      • The Court agreed with SUWA that BLM should begin its work with all routes in the area between Capitol Reef National Park, the Henry Mountains and the Green River. This work must be completed within one year of the Court’s May 22, 2015 order.
    • Directed BLM to provide SUWA with copies of the agency’s annual ORV monitoring reports, documentation BLM has largely failed to prepare since it completed the Richfield plan in 2008. BLM is required to provide SUWA with these reports over the three-year remedial period.
    • Directed BLM to issue a new decision within six months on whether to designate the Henry Mountains as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern—which would give heightened protection to its bison herds and large expanses of remote, spectacularly scenic lands.
    • Directed BLM to issue a new decision within the next year on whether Happy Canyon and portions of Buck and Pasture Canyons are eligible for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

    Further Background:

    Background information on the Richfield RMP can be found on SUWA’s website.  Photographs of the proposed wilderness areas at risk in the Richfield field office are also available. In 2008, the Salt Lake Tribune and New York Times panned the Richfield RMP, raising many of the same flaws identified in the court’s decisions.

    The conservation groups challenging the BLM’s 2008 land use plans in Utah include the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Utah Rivers Council, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, National Trust for Historic Preservation and Rocky Mountain Wild.

    The groups are represented by attorneys Heidi McIntosh and Robin Cooley of Earthjustice, Stephen Bloch and David Garbett of SUWA, and by Robert Wiygul of Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside. Attorneys Nada Culver and Alison Flint of The Wilderness Society were also a part of the groups’ legal team.

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  • February 17th, 2015

    Please tell the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) that the current San Rafael Desert Motorized Travel Planning process should not result in expanded off-road vehicle use in the San Rafael Desert. Click here to send your comments by February 21, 2015.

    SanRafaelDesert(2)_RayBloxham

    San Rafael Desert. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    Utah’s San Rafael Desert, included within the San Rafael River, Sweetwater Reef, Flat Tops and Labyrinth Canyon proposed wilderness units, is a remote, undeveloped, and sublime landscape. Located east of the San Rafael Reef and expanding to Labyrinth Canyon, the San Rafael Desert is rich in archaeological sites and provides habitat for species such as pronghorn antelope, kit fox, and the burrowing owl.

    The BLM’s Price Field Office is in the early stages of motorized travel planning for the San Rafael Desert. Generally, SUWA is supportive of the BLM taking a hard look at motorized travel designations on public lands, but nearly half of the current travel planning area was already analyzed by the agency as part of its 2003 San Rafael Route Designation Plan. That plan, although not perfect, involved a lengthy public process and survived both administrative appeal and litigation. SUWA supported the plan and even intervened on behalf of the BLM in those legal proceedings.

    While it’s unclear why the BLM is using limited agency resources on motorized travel planning in areas that only recently underwent the same analysis, what is clear is that the motorized community sees this as an opportunity to create new off-road vehicle trails and to re-open areas and trails that were specifically restricted from motorized use. These include the Junes Bottom area and route proliferation along the rims of Labyrinth Canyon, through many unique dune environments, and within culturally-rich canyons such as Cottonwood Wash.

    Labyrinth Canyon

    Labyrinth Canyon. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

    We know that any rollback of the current travel plan for the San Rafael Desert will result in increased adverse impacts to wildlife habitat, cultural resources, and wilderness-quality lands. This approach directly contradicts the BLM’s obligation to minimize impacts of its designated travel system on natural and cultural resources.

    Please tell the BLM, by February 21, 2015, that the current San Rafael Desert Travel Planning process should not result in increased off-road vehicle routes in the San Rafael Desert and that the BLM should minimize the impacts of its designated travel system on natural and cultural resources.

    Thank you for your support in protecting this wilderness-quality landscape.

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  • July 25th, 2014

    SUWA is working with the Obama administration to bring balance back to public land management through tools like master leasing plans (MLPs), which take a closer look at which lands should be off-limits to new oil and gas leasing and development (and which should remain open to such activities).

    Currently, the BLM is preparing a Moab MLP that covers nearly 850,000 acres. Learn more about master leasing plans in this video from the Equal Ground Coalition:

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  • May 20th, 2014

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is moving ahead with the so-called Moab Master Leasing Plan (Moab MLP). This plan will determine what areas are available for oil, gas and potash leases and permits on large swaths of public land close to Canyonlands and Arches National Parks. It also affects many outstanding proposed wilderness areas including Labyrinth Canyon, Fisher Towers and Harts Point/Shay Mountain.

    The BLM has released three preliminary alternatives of the Moab MLP: Alternatives B1, B2 and C. There are maps and comparisons of these alternatives on the BLM’s website.

    The agency is accepting public comment through May 28 on the alternatives. There is no better time for public comment to influence the direction of this critically important plan!

    We strongly encourage you to support Alternative C, which would protect the most proposed wilderness from leasing and development.

    Here are some points to make in your comments:

    • BLM should identify Alternative C as the agency preferred alternative. This alternative will give the most protection to lands proposed for wilderness in America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act. BLM’s Alternative C would either close these lands to new oil and gas leasing or permit leasing only with stringent “no surface occupancy” restrictions. Alternative C would also close the Moab MLP planning area to new potash leasing and applications.
    • BLM should modify Alternative C to close all of Harts Point and Shay Mountain proposed wilderness areas from new oil and gas leasing.
    • BLM should modify Alternative C to ensure that dark night skies and air quality at Arches National Park are fully protected. Public lands north of the park should only be available for leasing with stringent “no surface occupancy” restrictions or with strict stipulations that protect those resources.
    • Remind BLM that in its forthcoming environmental study it should fully analyze and consider the impacts from oil, gas and potash leasing, permitting, and development on Arches and Canyonlands National Parks – including night skies, air quality, and water quality.

    Click here to see a map of the lands that will be affected by the Moab MLP. And click here to review several BLM-prepared reports and studies about oil, gas and potash potential in the Moab MLP planning area.

    The Moab MLP provides a critical opportunity to correct the BLM’s 2008 Bush-era resource management plans which left hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness-caliber lands open for oil, gas and potash leasing and development in the Moab area.

    Comments should be mailed by May 28 to:

    Bureau of Land Management, Canyon Country District Office
    Attn: Brent Northrup, Project Manager
    82 East Dogwood
    Moab, UT 84532

    Comments can also be emailed to blm_ut_mb_mlpcomments@blm.gov

    Thank you!

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