BLM Closes 120 Miles of Erroneously Designated ORV Routes in the San Rafael Desert

Nov 3rd, 2022 Written by suwa

Persistence pays off.

During the final months of the Trump administration, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) approved a radical travel management scheme for the San Rafael Desert area in southeastern Emery County.

The San Rafael Desert is a sublime area of Utah’s backcountry, encompassing the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness and wilderness-quality lands such as Sweetwater Reef and the San Rafael River. It features stunning redrock canyons, important cultural sites, and an outstanding diversity of native species, many found nowhere else but in this corner of Utah.

By the BLM’s own account, however, the travel management plan it approved in the final months of the Trump administration emphasized maximum mileage available for off-road vehicle (ORV) recreation—more than doubling the miles of dirt two-tracks and trails for motorized use.

SUWA challenged that unbalanced plan in federal court in 2021, arguing that the plan violated several federal environmental laws. In February of this year, SUWA and the BLM settled that lawsuit; as part of the settlement agreement, the BLM agreed to reconsider the designation of around 190 miles of ORV routes in wilderness-quality lands within the San Rafael Desert.

And last Friday, October 28th, the BLM took action—closing 120 miles of erroneously designated ORV routes in the San Rafael Desert. As the BLM acknowledged, the wrongly designated routes are reclaimed, redundant, or nonexistent on the ground. The agency also agreed there was no public purpose or need for these ORV routes.

Removing these routes from the travel plan means that some of the San Rafael Desert’s wildest corners will remain just that way—without the sight and sound of motorized vehicles.

For nearly 40 years, SUWA has been unrelenting in its defense of the wild lands of southern Utah. Our work is only possible because of the support of thousands of people like you, from all around the country, who remain persistent in the defense of the redrock.

Thank you for your continued support!