BLM Land Use Plans


  • August 24th, 2020

    San Rafael River Proposed Wilderness Area. Photo (c) Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance; use with attribution permitted.

    For Immediate Release

    Contact: Laura Peterson, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance 801-236-3762, laura@suwa.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (August 24, 2020) – On Friday, August 21, the Bureau of Land Management released the final motorized vehicle travel management plan for the San Rafael Desert in eastern Emery County, Utah. Left unchecked, this plan will forever change the area’s stunning and remote wild lands, turning it into a playground for off-road vehicles.

    The San Rafael Desert is a sublime area of Utah’s backcountry, encompassing the newly-designated 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 this corner of Utah. The Bureau’s plan inundates this remote area with off-road vehicle routes, more than doubling the miles open to motorized vehicles from 300 miles to more than 765 miles.

    “At this point in the Trump Administration, the Bureau of Land Management has abandoned even the pretense of seeking balance in public land management,” said Laura Peterson, staff attorney at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Instead of accommodating the diverse array of public land resources and user groups and developing a reasonable travel plan that ensures access to public lands while preserving the backcountry, the Bureau’s travel plan does the opposite. It designates virtually any cow path, wash bottom and line on a map as open to off-road vehicles.”

    Federal law requires the Bureau of Land Management to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. The agency must demonstrate that it has done so for both every route designated, and the travel plan as a whole. This includes minimizing damage to soils, watershed, vegetation, wildlife habitat, and cultural sites; minimizing the harassment of wildlife as well as conflicts between different public land user groups; and minimizing impacts of motorized vehicle routes on wilderness values like naturalness and solitude. The Bureau’s San Rafael Desert travel plan falls woefully short of meeting its legal obligation.

    “By doubling the miles of off-road vehicle trails, this short-sighted plan designates an unmanageable spiderweb of routes that will forever change the San Rafael Desert, one of Utah’s quietest places. This is public land management at its worst,” said Steve Bloch, Legal Director at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

    The San Rafael Desert travel plan is the first of thirteen travel plans that the Bureau of Land Management will complete over the next six years as a part of a court-supervised settlement agreement. These thirteen travel plans will determine where motorized vehicles will be allowed across millions of acres of federal public lands in some of Utah’s wildest public lands, including the Dirty Devil, San Rafael Swell and Vermillion Cliffs.

    Additional Resources:

    Photos of areas affected by the plan.

    The BLM’s press release.

    The BLM’s e-planning page on the project.

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  • December 19th, 2019

    Last Friday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft travel management plan for the San Rafael Desert in Emery County, Utah that would more than double the number of miles open to motorized use—forever changing the area’s stunning and remote wild lands, and turning them into a playground for off-road vehicles.

    The San Rafael Desert is a sublime area of Utah’s backcountry, encompassing the newly-designated Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness and wilderness-quality lands such as Sweetwater Reef and the San Rafael River.

    Federal law requires the BLM to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. Instead, the agency’s draft travel management plan for the San Rafael Desert would inundate this remote area with off-road vehicle routes, increasing the miles open to motorized vehicles from 300 miles to more than 775.

    Click here to tell the BLM its draft plan for the San Rafael Desert is unacceptable and fails to minimize damage to natural and cultural resources.

    Labyrinth Canyon. © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    Among other things, the BLM’s preferred alternative would:

    • Designate as open to motorized vehicles more than 300 miles of routes that are reclaimed, reclaiming, or do not exist on the ground.  Designating these routes is unnecessary and will damage desert soils, vegetation, riparian areas, cultural resources and wildlife habitat.
    • Designate as open to motorized vehicles popular non-motorized areas such as Moonshine Wash (from the trailhead to the slot canyon), June’s Bottom, and along the San Rafael River.

    The San Rafael Desert travel management plan is the first of thirteen travel plans the BLM will complete over the next six years as a part of a court-supervised settlement agreement with conservation and off-road vehicle groups. The plans will determine where motorized vehicles are allowed on some of Utah’s wildest public lands.

    Tell the BLM to fulfill its legal obligation and keep motorized trails out of wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and other sensitive or inappropriate areas in the San Rafael Desert.

    The BLM is giving the public only 30 days during the busy holiday season to review its proposed travel management plan and submit written comments.

    Click here to submit your comments by January 13th.

    Also be sure to check out our story map for more information, including maps and photographs of currently-designated and proposed motorized vehicle routes.

  • December 16th, 2019

    Offers public only 30 days, including over the holidays, to submit comments on a plan that has been years in the making.

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: 

    Laura Peterson, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-236-3762, laura@suwa.org
    Soren Jespersen, The Wilderness Society, 970-819-7377, soren_jespersen@tws.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (December 16, 2019) – On Friday, December 13, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) quietly released a draft travel management plan for the San Rafael Desert in Emery County, Utah that will forever change the area’s stunning and remote wild lands, turning it into a playground for off-road vehicles.

    The San Rafael Desert travel plan is the first of thirteen travel plans that BLM will complete over the next six years as a part of a court-supervised settlement agreement with conservation and off-road vehicle groups. These thirteen travel plans will determine where motorized vehicles will be allowed in some of Utah’s wildest public lands, including the Dirty Devil, San Rafael Swell and Vermillion Cliffs.

    The San Rafael Desert is a sublime area of Utah’s backcountry, encompassing the newly-designated 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 pollinators (bees and wasps). BLM’s draft plan would inundate this remote area with off-road vehicle routes, more than doubling the miles open to motorized vehicles from 300 miles to more than 775 miles.

    Labyrinth Canyon, (c) Ray Bloxham/Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    “The BLM’s draft travel plan is short-sighted and wholly fails to account for the diverse array of public land resources and user groups,” said Laura Peterson, staff attorney at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Rather than capitalize on an opportunity to develop a reasonable, manageable and forward-thinking travel plan that ensures public access while preserving the backcountry and minimizing damage, the BLM’s plan does exactly the opposite. It proposes to designate any cow path, wash bottom and line on a map as open to off-road vehicles. The BLM’s plan would open popular hiking trails to motorized vehicle use. It would designate routes that will bisect wildlife habitat, fragment wild lands and damage important cultural sites.”

    Federal law requires BLM to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. This includes minimizing damage to soils, watershed, vegetation, wildlife habitat, and cultural sites; minimizing the harassment of wildlife as well as conflicts between different public land user groups; and minimizing impacts of motorized vehicle routes on wilderness values like naturalness and solitude. BLM’s San Rafael Desert travel plan falls woefully short of meeting its legal obligation.

    “BLM’s draft plan is as one-sided as they come,” said Soren Jespersen, Senior Field Representative at The Wilderness Society. “The plan would nearly double the amount of motorized roads and trails in the San Rafael Desert including by adding miles roads that do not exist on the ground today. This isn’t travel management, it’s a travel free-for-all, and it’s not what visitors to the San Rafael Desert come to experience.”

    The BLM is giving the public only 30 days during the busy holiday season to review its proposed travel management plan and submit written comments.

    More information, including maps and photographs of currently-designated and proposed motorized vehicle routes, is available here.

  • November 5th, 2019

    As you no doubt have heard, the National Park Service (NPS) recently abandoned a proposal to allow certain off-road vehicles in Utah’s national parks and monuments.

    That proposal provoked enough public outrage to force the Trump administration to reverse course and keep the longtime closure of park roads to off-road vehicles. And that reversal came in part because SUWA members like you spoke out against sacrificing our national parks to ATVs and UTVs.

    But the controversy also raises a broader question: where do off-road vehicles belong on our public lands?

    The time for answering that question is now before us. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently in the midst of a planning process that will result in 13 new travel management plans covering more than six million acres of BLM-managed lands in eastern and southern Utah.

    These plans—to be completed over the next eight years—will determine where motorized vehicles are allowed in some of Utah’s most stunning and remote wild lands, such as the Dirty Devil, San Rafael Swell, and Labyrinth Canyon.

    And in the coming months and years, we’re going to again need SUWA members like you to speak out against turning our public lands into off-road vehicle playgrounds.

    The new travel plans are the result of SUWA and its conservation partners’ litigation of six travel plans released at the end of the George W. Bush administration.

    Those plans smothered Utah’s public lands with a dense spider web of thousands of miles of motorized routes, prioritizing off-road vehicles at the expense of Utah’s cultural and natural resources. Routes designated in the these plans cross directly through cultural sites considered sacred by Native Americans and bisect wildlife habitat valued by Utah’s hunters and non-hunters alike. The Bush-era plans also exacerbated conflict with non-motorized public lands users.

    But in 2013, the federal courts found that those Bush-era travel plans violated the law by failing to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources. Under the ensuing settlement agreement between the BLM, conservation organizations and off-road vehicle groups, the BLM is required to rewrite travel plans with more than motorized users in mind.

    Which brings us to this once-in-a-generation opportunity.

    At SUWA, we view the forthcoming travel plans as an opportunity to develop reasonable, manageable and forward-thinking blueprints that ensure public access while preserving the backcountry and minimizing damage.

    This new planning process gives the BLM a second chance to get things right, ensuring access to trailheads, scenic overlooks and recreation opportunities while protecting the very reason people want to drive to such remote places in the first place: to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of Utah’s unparalleled public lands.

    Much has changed in the decade since the BLM released its flawed, Bush-era travel plans. Visitation to Utah has skyrocketed—fueled by the State of Utah’s advertising and the rise of social media—and shows no sign of diminishing. More people are seeking out new types of recreation as technology changes: today’s off-road vehicles are designed to go more places faster than ever before. We are also grappling with a climate crisis, bringing new challenges to Utah’s public land managers.

    But one thing hasn’t changed in the last decade: SUWA is still here, fighting every day to protect Utah wilderness and to preserve the redrock for generations to come.

    We’ll be telling you more about the BLM’s travel planning process in the coming months, and once again it is your voice that will make the difference. Rather than viewing this process as a burden, the BLM should take advantage of this opportunity to protect our shared heritage and craft visionary plans that will endure for years to come.

    Utah’s wild places deserve no less.

  • September 17th, 2019

    Decision finds BLM ignored cumulative impacts and failed to comply with the Monument’s prohibitions on using non-native seed

    Moab, UT (September 17, 2019) – The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) yesterday set aside a decision by the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM’s) Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Kanab Field Office to remove more than 30,000 acres of pinyon juniper forest and sagebrush from the Skutumpah Terrace area within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), Western Watersheds Project, The Wilderness Society, and the Grand Canyon Trust appealed the BLM’s February 2019 decision approving the project.

    Foreground to background: White Cliffs, Skutumpah Terrace, Pink Cliffs, in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Photo Ray Bloxham/SUWA. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    In overturning the BLM’s decision, the IBLA found that the BLM erred because it “failed to take a hard look at the Project’s cumulative impacts on migratory birds under NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act]… [and] erred in determining that using non-native seed… was consistent with the applicable land use plan under FLPMA [Federal Land Policy and Management Act].” Non-native grasses, while preferred by the livestock industry, become invasive weeds in their own right and degrade habitat quality for native wildlife.

    The BLM’s decision would have rid the area of pinyon pine and juniper trees by mastication, an intensively surface-disturbing method of vegetation removal that involves shredding trees where they stand by means of a wood chipper/mulcher mounted to a large front-end loader, which is driven cross-country throughout a project area. The plan would also have authorized the destruction of sagebrush by chaining, the practice of ripping shrubs and trees from the ground by dragging large chains between two bulldozers. The Skutumpah Terrace project is featured in a National Geographic story this month.

    The four conservation groups that prevailed in the appeal praised the IBLA decision.

    “This decision illustrates what should be obvious, which is that destroying native pinyon and juniper forests to plant non-native forage for livestock is bad public policy,” said Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Unfortunately, the BLM is still proceeding with plans to rip up native vegetation from more than 100,000 acres elsewhere in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and hundreds of thousands of additional acres throughout Utah and the West. Congress needs to step in and ask why the BLM continues to waste taxpayer money on vegetation removal projects that ignore science and its own land management plans.”

    “Thanks to an enormous amount of  effort and tenacity, the old growth pinyon-juniper woodland plants and wildlife on the Skutumpah Terrace are safe for now from BLM chains and bulldozers,” said Laura Welp of Western Watersheds Project, a former BLM Botanist at GSENM. “Massive vegetation-removal projects like this one interfere with efforts to restore the native plants and animals we cherish.”  

    “The IBLA acknowledged what the BLM did not: destroying native pinyon and juniper trees on over 130,000 acres of land that is, Skutumpah combined with  two additional pinyon and juniper removal projects being planned in Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument just might have significant impacts on birds like pinyon jays, which have declined more than 85 percent,” said Mary O’Brien, Utah Forests Program Director for the Grand Canyon Trust.

    “The special values of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument continue to be under attack by this administration,” said Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director for The Wilderness Society. “We will continue to fight illegal efforts to gut this area and efforts like this that mismanage the trees, wildlife, fossils and cultural resources that make this place special.” 

    Yesterday’s IBLA decision comes on the heels of the BLM’s withdrawal in May of a decision to approve another vegetation removal project on the Tavaputs Plateau in Utah. Conservationists contend that the BLM’s vegetation removal projects on public lands throughout the West lack a scientific basis, and that its vegetation removal program is in dire need of congressional oversight.

    Additional Resources

    Interior Board of Land Appeals Order, Sept. 16, 2019.

    Original BLM proposal.

    National Geographic, September, 2019: Forests on Utah’s public lands may soon be torn out. Here’s why.

    Gambling with Our Public Lands: The Scientific Uncertainty and Fiscal Waste of BLM’s Vegetation Removal Program in the West

    Do mechanical vegetation treatments of pinyon-juniper and sagebrush communities work? A review of the literature. 2019. Jones.

    George Wuerthner (former BLM botanist), The Salt Lake Tribune, September 12, 2019: BLM is attacking juniper to help cows, not sage grouse