BLM Land Use Plans Archives


  • May 4th, 2017

    On April 28th, the Interior Board of Land Appeals issued an order  dismissing an appeal filed by Washington County, the City of St. George, and the Washington County Water Conservancy District that challenged the recently finalized Resource Management Plans for the Red Cliffs and Beaver Dam Wash National Conservation Areas.

    The appellants primarily challenged the BLM’s decision to designate portions of the conservation areas as “exclusion areas”—a designation that would prohibit new rights-of-way such as roads, power lines, or pipelines. The challenge was specifically focused on the Northern Corridor, a proposed east-west travel corridor that would bisect critical desert tortoise habitat in the Red Cliffs conservation area (background information about the transportation corridor can be found here). The appellants also challenged the ability of the BLM to regulate where new water infrastructure could be located throughout both conservation areas.

    While the Board’s action terminates an appeal that, if successful, would undermine the purpose of the national conservation area designations, it nevertheless leaves St. George and Washington County taxpayers on the hook for an estimated $9,500 to $14,000 in legal fees.

    Although SUWA successfully intervened in the case on behalf of the BLM, the Board dismissed the appeal on the grounds that it concerned issues outside the Board’s “authority to adjudicate.” The Board took this action on its own accord, prior to any briefing on the case by SUWA, the BLM, or other interveners in the case.

    Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. Photo: Laura Peterson/SUWA

    The two conservation areas—both located in Utah’s southwestern corner—were created to “conserve, protect, and enhance . . . the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources” of the designated lands. Additionally, the Red Cliffs conservation area was established to protect threatened and endangered species like the desert tortoise. The BLM was required to develop management plans to accomplish these purposes, which were released on December 21, 2016.

    The Board’s decision will prevent the sought-after projects from moving forward for now, but SUWA will continue to follow any developments and will keep you updated if and when they occur.

  • March 28th, 2017

    Yesterday, SUWA filed a Motion to Intervene with the Interior Board of Land Appeals, asking to join the BLM in defending the recently approved Resource Management Plans for the Beaver Dam Wash and Red Cliffs National Conservation Areas (NCAs).

    Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. Photo by Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    These two NCAs—both located in Utah’s southwestern corner where the Colorado Plateau, Great Basin, and Mojave Desert ecosystems meet—were created to “conserve, protect, and enhance . . . the ecological, scenic, wildlife, recreational, cultural, historical, natural, educational, and scientific resources” of the designated lands. Additionally, the Red Cliffs NCA was established to protect threatened and endangered species like the desert tortoise. The BLM was required to develop management plans to accomplish these purposes, which were released on December 21, 2016.

    Missing the point of the NCAs entirely, Washington County, the City of St. George, and the Washington County Water Conservancy District filed an appeal in hopes of increasing the amount of certain types of development that can occur within the conservation areas. Perhaps the most troubling of these potential developments, and probably the one project that would be the most harmful to desert tortoises, is a highway or transportation corridor running east to west through desert tortoise habitat in the Red Cliffs NCA.

    If SUWA is allowed to intervene, we will fight to uphold the intended purpose of the NCA designations and protect the wildlife and wilderness-quality lands within these two remarkable landscapes.

    Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. Photo by Creed Murdock

  • January 13th, 2017

    SUWA, The Wilderness Society, Earthjustice, and a coalition of eight other conservation groups, along with the Bureau of Land Management and off-highway vehicle groups have taken an important step to settle longstanding litigation filed in 2008 by the conservation groups which challenged six land use plans and off-highway vehicle travel plans completed at the end of the George W. Bush administration.

    Read More »
  • January 5th, 2016

    Just as we were about to say goodbye to 2015, the U.S. Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a welcome decision in our longstanding Utah resource management plan litigation. On December 30th the Circuit Court denied a request by the BLM to indefinitely delay surveys for cultural artifacts on lands under the purview of the Richfield field office, a course of action the agency admitted would have resulted in damage to — or outright destruction of — an untold number of irreplaceable cultural sites.

    The Richfield office oversees 2.1 million acres of redrock country in south-central Utah, largely sandwiched between Canyonlands National Park and Capitol Reef National Park. This land is held sacred by Native American tribes, including the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, the Navajo Nation, and the Hopi Tribe.

    Mt. Ellen, Henry Mountains (Ray Bloxham)

    Mt. Ellen proposed wilderness, Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    Though less than 5 percent of this area has been surveyed for cultural resources, thousands of significant sites have been identified, including structures, ceramics, petroglyphs, and lithic scatters. In a land use plan adopted in the waning days of the George W. Bush administration, the BLM gave the green light to ORVs to drive on more than 4,000 miles of trails and tracks without first surveying them to ensure that these irreplaceable cultural resources would not be harmed by such use.

    The Tenth Circuit’s order is just the latest ruling in a string of rulings we have obtained which consistently reject how BLM manages ORVs in the Richfield area.

    It’s confounding that the Obama administration continues to defend and implement land use planning decisions that are so wildly unbalanced in favor of ORV use and energy development over conservation – but that’s the way it’s been for the past seven years. Maybe things will be different in 2016 (hope springs eternal). SUWA and our partners have challenged all six land use plans issued at the end of the Bush administration in federal court. The Richfield plan is the first to be fully litigated.

  • January 4th, 2016

    SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE * EARTHJUSTICE

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    January 4, 2015
    Contact:
    Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
    Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, 303.996.9611

    SALT LAKE CITY: Last week the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit in Denver, CO rejected a request by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to indefinitely delay surveys for cultural artifacts on public lands managed by the Richfield Field Office in Utah.  In May of 2015, environmentalists and historic preservation advocates secured a victory when a Utah federal district court judge ordered BLM to conduct on-the-ground surveys to identify cultural artifacts in need of protection on more than 4,000 miles of dirt roads and trails where BLM has permitted off-road vehicles to be driven.  The Tenth Circuit confirmed that BLM must comply.

    “This region is home to an abundance of archaeological resources, including caves, rock shelters, and rock art, that provide a window in to the lives of the early inhabitants of the Colorado Plateau,” said Kevin Jones, former Utah State Archaeologist.  “Off-road vehicles pose a serious threat to these irreplaceable resources.”

    The Richfield Field Office covers 2.1 million acres of red rock country in south-central Utah, largely sandwiched between Canyonlands National Park and Capitol Reef National Park.  This land is held sacred by Native American tribes, including the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, the Navajo Nation, and the Hopi Tribe.  Thousands of significant cultural properties have been identified in the field office including structures, ceramics, petroglyphs, and lithic scatters.  In a land use plan adopted in late 2008, BLM gave the green light to off-road vehicles to drive on more than 4,000 miles of trails and tracks without first surveying them to ensure that these irreplaceable cultural resources would not be harmed by such use.

    “This is an important decision from the Tenth Circuit,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.  “In practical terms the ruling means that BLM can no longer delay following federal historic preservation laws which require the agency to ‘look before it leaps,’ and determine what irreplaceable cultural resources in the Richfield field office are at risk from off-road vehicle use.  Rather than some new requirement, this is work that BLM was required by law to have undertaken 15 years ago when it first began the Richfield plan.”

    Less than five percent of the public lands managed by the Richfield Field Office have been surveyed for cultural resources.  BLM is required to survey the routes designated for off-highway vehicle use within three years.

    “For decades, BLM has allowed off-road vehicles to carve up the landscape without first ensuring that the remnants of region’s rich history are preserved,” said Robin Cooley, Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups.  “The court’s order means that BLM will finally have to take the steps required by law to identify and protect cultural artifacts.”

    BLM’s request to delay the cultural resource surveys was also opposed by the Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah, Indian Peaks Band of Paiute, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe and the Morning Star Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting native traditions, culture, and art.

    The Richfield land use plan is one of six plans—covering more than 11 million acres—adopted at the end of the George W. Bush administration.  These plans were widely criticized for prioritizing motorized use and energy development over protection of Utah’s spectacular red rock canyon country.  The conservation and historic preservation groups have challenged all six plans in court.  The Richfield plan is the first to be litigated, but the plans all suffer from similar legal flaws.

    The conservation groups challenging the plans 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 at SUWA, Earthjustice, and Robert Wiygul of Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside.

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