One of the most high profile consequences of the BLM’s rushed planning effort in Utah was the controversial December 2008 lease sale, which threatened scenic landscapes near several national parks and put more than 100,000 acres of wilderness at risk. Equally insidious, though less reported on, is the fact that along with its approval of six abysmal resource management plans (RMPs), the BLM also approved travel plans for each field office. These travel plans designated specific trails as open to motorized vehicle use (e.g. ORVs) on some of the state’s most sensitive public lands.
On December 17, 2009, a coalition of groups led by SUWA filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Washington, D.C. challenging the lease sale, as well as the Moab, Price, and Vernal resource management plans (RMPs) that authorized the sale. We also filed a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction asking the court to block the BLM from issuing the leases. Several companies intervened on behalf of the BLM, as did the state of Utah and Carbon County.
Related Happenings: On January 17, 2009, Judge Ricardo Urbina granted our motion for a temporary restraining order and ordered BLM not to issue the 77 leases at issue in this case. The judge explicitly held that we are likely to succeed on the merits of our case (alleging that the BLM violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Historic Preservation Act), that we would be irreparably harmed if the leases were issued, and that the balance of harms and the public interest favored the granting of an injunction. This was an extraordinary and remarkable decision.
On February 4th, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar directed the BLM not to accept the high bids for 77 lease parcels at issue in our case. Secretary Salazar explained that his actions were necessary because “[i]n its last weeks in office, the Bush Administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our nation’s most treasured landscapes in Utah.” It took our breath away to hear this from the Secretary on the afternoon of the 4th (elections really do matter).
A few days before Secretary Salazar announced his decision directing BLM to back down, we filed a revised version of our lawsuit (an amended complaint), this time challenging the most significant decisions the BLM made in the wildly unbalanced Moab, Price and Vernal resource management plans and adding four new plaintiffs to the case. Now the issues in the mix include critical decisions like the BLM’s off-road vehicle travel plans, the designation of wild and scenic rivers, the designation of areas of critical environmental concern, and the BLM’s refusal to take seriously the threats posed by climate change.