Off Road Vehicles Archives


  • May 23rd, 2019

    Decision Prioritizes Off-Road Vehicle Use over Threatened and Endangered Species

    Contact: Kya Marienfeld, Wildlands Attorney, 435-259-5440, kya@suwa.org

    Laura Peterson, Travel Management Attorney, 801-236-3762, laura@suwa.org

    Moab, UT (May 23, 2019) –  Without prior notice or opportunity for public input, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Richfield Field Office announced Wednesday that it is opening 5,400 acres of public lands surrounding Utah’s iconic Factory Butte to unfettered cross-country off-road vehicle (ORV) use.

    The BLM’s decision reverses a 2006 closure of the area to ORV use and will allow unrestricted motorized travel throughout the designated “play area.”

    Left: a spring wildflower bloom enhances Factory Butte’s unique photographic appeal. Right: Extensive ruts left by ORVs near Factory Butte remain visible even after torrential rainfall. Photo (c) Ray Bloxham/SUWA. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    The 2006 closure followed a petition filed with the BLM by SUWA outlining the devastating effects of unmanaged cross-country travel by ORVs. The closure was necessary to protect the federally-listed endangered Wright fishhook (Scierocactus wrightiae) and Winkler (Pediocactus winkleri) cacti from direct mortality due to cross-country ORV travel.

    SUWA has monitored the Factory Butte ORV closure area since 2006 and has documented ongoing and intentional ORV violations and associated damage to natural resources.

    “The BLM’s decision to allow destructive, unregulated cross-country motorized use on the remarkable public lands surrounding Factory Butte – one of Utah’s most well-known landmarks – is outrageous,” said Kya Marienfeld, SUWA Wildlands Attorney. “When the BLM rightly closed these lands to motorized use in 2006, it recognized that off-road vehicles are a significant threat to federally protected cactus species in the area. We don’t believe the BLM has done what it takes to make sure that the same damage doesn’t immediately resume.”

    “It’s remarkable that at a time when BLM has informed us that they’ll likely miss a court-ordered deadline to complete a new ORV travel plan for all of the Henry Mountains Field Station, including Factory Butte, they’ve somehow found the staff time and resources to open Factory Butte to off-road vehicle abuse immediately before Memorial Day weekend,” added SUWA Travel Management Attorney Laura Peterson. “With decreasing cactus populations and increasing ORV violations of the closure over recent years, its difficult to see how the agency expects any outcome other than once-again imperiling these listed species.”

    “SUWA has worked for more than 20 years to protect this place, and we don’t have any intention of walking away from it now,” said Marienfeld.

    Additional Resources:

    BLM press release on opening of off-road playground around Factory Butte.

  • November 8th, 2018

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit Court issued a short opinion this week dismissing challenges brought by the State of Utah and various counties to a settlement between conservation groups, the United States, and off-road vehicle groups over travel management plans governing millions of acres of public lands in southern and eastern Utah.

    Read More »
  • October 5th, 2017

    Do you want to hear the sound of helicopters in Utah’s backcountry? Moab-based Pinnacle Helicopters wants to fly wealthy tourists into wilderness quality areas, using a loophole that would allow them to land on state lands inside a Wilderness Study Area near Canyonlands National Park. The National Park Service has raised concerns. SUWA is fighting the proposal.

    The Great Gallery in Horseshoe Canyon in Canyonlands National Park, adjacent to one of the proposed helicopter landing sites. NPS photo by Neal Herbert.

    The Moab Times-Independent reports on the latest issue hovering above Moab — and Utah’s wild lands:

    A local helicopter company’s plans to charter flights to state lands within a federal Wilderness Study Area (WSA) near Canyonlands National Park has met some pushback from conservation groups and others who cite potential impacts regarding noise and solitude.

    Moab-based Pinnacle Helicopters is currently seeking a right-of-entry permit with Utah’s School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) for transportation and charter flights on four state-owned land parcels.

    These state parcels — arranged in a “checkerboard” pattern across the map — are within or adjacent to a Bureau of Land Management (BLM) WSA. One parcel sits directly adjacent to Horseshoe Canyon, home to the “Great Gallery” rock art site in Canyonlands National Park.

    Kya Marienfeld, wildlands attorney at the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), said this right-of-entry application reveals how differently state and federal lands are managed.

    “This [WSA] designation was put in place to ensure that a pristine wilderness-quality area remains unimpaired until Congress decides to officially designate the area as wilderness,” Marienfeld said. “Aircraft lands are not permitted in these Wilderness Study Areas, but because SITLA parcels are managed differently, they essentially allow an island within wilderness-quality lands where any activity the state chooses can be allowed, no matter how incompatible with the surrounding uses on public lands.”

    According to Marienfeld, SUWA has expressed concerns that these helicopter flights would have a “terrible effect” on the wilderness characteristics of the area, which include solitude and remoteness.

    “It’s noise and the effects on solitude. Helicopters are loud, and this area being so remote … it’s pretty untrammeled because it’s a little ways out,” she said.

    Click here to read the full article.

    More on Pinnacle’s plans:

    • Each of the three proposed landing sites are within a Wilderness Study Area (WSA), which is undeveloped public land with outstanding naturalness, opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation, and a landscape largely unaffected by human activity.  This designation was put in place to ensure that a pristine wilderness-quality area remains unimpaired until Congress decides to officially designate the area as wilderness.
    • Aircraft landings are not permitted in these WSAs, which are managed as wilderness by the BLM, but because SITLA parcels are managed differently, they essentially allow an island within wilderness-quality lands where any activity the state chooses can be allowed, no matter how incompatible with the surrounding uses on public lands. In essence, the state can do anything it wants with them, all with an eye on turning a profit.
    • This is exactly why the helicopter operator is seeking to take advantage of these SITLA sections and land on state-managed lands, even though tourists would be flying in with the purpose of experiencing the supreme public lands that surround each SITLA landing site.
    • One of the proposed landing sites is immediately adjacent to the Horseshoe Canyon Unit of Canyonlands National Park, which contains some of the most pristine and fragile rock art panels in the world, including the famous “Great Gallery.” This entire NPS unit is managed as an archaeological district and access is carefully maintained to preserve the exceptional rock art.
    • The only people this new undertaking will benefit is a few extremely wealthy tourists, at the expense of locals who know the Robber’s Roost and Horseshoe Canyon area as a place that is well-worth the trek precisely because of its superb remoteness. Flying rich tourists in for day-trips not only cheapens the wilderness experience, but also ruins the solitude that makes this location special.

    Stay tuned for ways you can get involved…..

  • 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.

  • March 14th, 2017

    Great news in the fight for Bears Ears!

    Indian Creek (c) Tim Peterson, flown by Lighthawk.

    Indian Creek (c) Tim Peterson, flown by Lighthawk.

    In mid-March, the Department of the Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) issued an order granting SUWA’s Petition for Stay in our recent appeal fighting new ATV trails in Indian Creek, inside Bears Ears National Monument.

    Finding that SUWA and our partners Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Grand Canyon Trust, and the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club would be irreparably harmed by allowing construction of new motorized trails in Indian Creek, the IBLA concluded that the public interest would be best served by immediately staying the construction of the trails “to prevent harm to the environment and preserve the status quo.”

    This order is the first step in ensuring the monument is protected from increasing motorized use and it prohibits BLM from beginning construction until the IBLA has ruled on the merits of our appeal, for which they have already said we have a high likelihood of success when they granted our petition for stay.

    This is an exciting victory for wilderness, and is the first time an administrative body or court has addressed the legal effect of the Bears Ears National Monument Proclamation, which calls for careful consideration and analysis when managing the spectacular and irreplaceable resources within its boundaries. See a report on our appeal here, and read the IBLA’s order granting our Petition for Stay here.