Late last year, the Moab office of the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) began considering a project to upgrade and maintain an undeveloped and undesignated motorized vehicle route deep into the Floy Canyon Wilderness Study Area (WSA). This proposal would have allowed an excavator, loader, and road grader to blade a steep route up the side of a deep side canyon located many miles up Right-Hand Tusher Canyon from the Green River.

The idea was pushed on behalf of the grazing permittee, who stated that the road was needed to allow motorized access to a historic spring and trough development. According to the permittee, the road construction was needed to “perform maintenance on malfunctioning spring infrastructure.”

Relevant law and policy for WSA management allows maintenance of longstanding uses that predate when a WSA was established, trough and spring developments among them. However, that same governing policy expressly forbids impairment of wilderness values for other reasons, including the re-establishment of routes that have been closed and rehabilitated and are no longer used for motorized travel.

While engaging on this project, SUWA staff hiked the entire portion of the WSA that would have been bladed into a road. We confirmed that the “route” is extremely reclaimed, substantially unnoticeable, and impassable to motorized vehicles without major surface-disturbing new construction. Historic photos and documents in BLM files show the route—consistently referred to as a “trail”—as extremely well reclaimed as long ago as 1983.

SUWA’s fieldwork confirmed that the proposed “route” within the Floy Canyon WSA is extremely reclaimed, substantially unnoticeable, and impassable to motorized vehicles. © Kya Marienfeld/SUWA

After our careful fieldwork, months of discussion with the BLM, and the submission of extensive comments in opposition to the project, the BLM notified us in mid-February that it is dropping plans to proceed.

This is great news, and a fine illustration of why we get involved as early as possible with agency and private parties’ plans that we fear may harm the redrock wilderness. It is why our Wildlands program exists. Because of it, one of the most rugged and spectacular WSAs in Utah remains intact.

—Kya Marienfeld

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, Spring 2022 issue)