BLM Land Use Plans Archives


  • May 31st, 2017

    Longstanding litigation over six BLM-Utah land use plans and travel management plans brought to a close

    An order issued today by the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit clears the way for BLM-Utah to begin implementing a comprehensive settlement agreement that will result in the completion of 13 new off-highway vehicle travel management plans over the next 8 years across eastern and southern Utah.  The settlement agreement marks the end to longstanding litigation filed in 2008 by a coalition of conservation groups which challenged six land use plans and travel plans that were completed at the end of the George W. Bush administration and designated a spider web of approximately 20,000 miles of routes where off-highway vehicles could drive on federal public lands.  The settlement requires BLM to revisit these decisions across more than 6 million acres of federal public lands, minimize the impacts of off-highway vehicles on cultural resources and wilderness landscapes that provide opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation and monitor for illegal use.

    BLM-Utah will also consider the designation of three areas of critical environmental concern (ACECs) and update and prepare air quality-related reports and studies that will inform future BLM decisions regarding oil and gas development.  The settlement agreement can be viewed here.

    The settlement agreement was reviewed and approved by a federal district court judge in Salt Lake City.  In his order approving the settlement agreement, senior district court Judge Dale A. Kimball stated that the settlement “is a fair and lawful resolution of years of litigation” and is consistent with applicable federal law.

    The BLM-Utah plans at issue guide land management decisions across more than 10 million acres of federal public lands in eastern and southern Utah, including some of the nation’s most remarkable red rock wilderness landscapes.

    • “With the settlement agreement in place we will work to make sure that BLM-Utah’s new travel management plans fully account for and protect Utah’s unique cultural resources and red rock wilderness lands,” said Stephen Bloch, Legal Director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The negotiations leading up to the settlement agreement were hard fought and contentious.  In the end, we came to a place that provided sufficient certainty to the conservation groups that BLM would take seriously its responsibilities to minimize the impacts of off-road vehicle use on all public resources, including wilderness.”
    • “This proposed settlement is good news for Utah’s iconic public lands, including the lands surrounding Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, and Dinosaur National Monument,” said Robin Cooley, Earthjustice Attorney representing the conservation groups. “BLM must take a fresh look at where it will allow off-highway vehicles to drive, this time with an eye towards protecting the very things that make Utah’s redrock country so special–its wildness, opportunities for solitude, and irreplaceable archaeological sites.”
    • “These amazing lands deserve thoughtful management for uses other than motorized recreation and oil and gas development, which are prioritized in the current plans,” said Nada Culver, Director the BLM Action Center at The Wilderness Society. “We hope to get to work on updated plans and management decisions once the settlement is approved.”

    Photos of proposed wilderness areas in new “travel management areas” contemplated by the settlement agreement can be found here.

    The following conservation groups are plaintiffs to the litigation and parties to the settlement agreement: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Rocky Mountain Wild, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and Utah Rivers Council.

    The parties to the settlement agreement include the conservation groups, the off-highway vehicle group-intervenors, and the Bureau of Land Management.  Several intervenors, including the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration and four oil and gas companies, do not oppose the agreement.

    The conservation groups were represented by attorneys from Earthjustice, SUWA, NRDC, and the law firm of Waltzer, Wiygul and Garside.

  • 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.

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