Off Road Vehicles Archives


  • 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 13th, 2019

    Following a public outcry, an outlandish Interior Department order that was proposed to allow off-road vehicles in national parks in Utah was dropped by the Trump administration. But the controversy over the Park Service proposal raises a larger, under-the-radar ORV issue with the potential for long-term damage to America’s redrock wilderness. In this episode, we discuss how the BLM’s travel management planning has been at the heart of SUWA’s work for more than two decades, and how it’s coming to a head over the next few years. Our guests are SUWA Wildlands Program Director Neal Clark and Staff Attorney Laura Peterson.

    Wild Utah is produced by Jerry Schmidt and is made possible by the contributing members of SUWA. Our theme music, “What’s Worth?” was written and performed in Moab by Haley Noel Austin. 

     

  • November 8th, 2019

    Agency may hand over an alleged right-of-way to the state of Utah as it considers unprecedented public land giveaway

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
    November 8, 2019

    Contacts:
    Alison Heis, National Parks Conservation Association, 202.384.8762
    Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.859.1552
    Jen Ujifusa, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 202.266.0473
    Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 646.823.4518
    Jennifer Dickson, The Wilderness Society, 303.650.9379

    (Salt Lake City): The Interior Department announced today that it is considering giving away the United States’ interest to a 10-mile gravel road in the southwest corner of Utah. This is a trial balloon that, if successful, would open the door for the Trump administration to cede control to tens of thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails to the state of Utah, a state notorious for its anti-public lands agenda. The move could affect claimed rights-of-ways in national parks, national monuments, and wilderness areas.

    Interior is relying on a controversial and unlawful tool known as “recordable disclaimers of interest” (RDIs) to cede title and control over federal public lands to the state of Utah and its counties. The state of Utah and its counties have filed more than twenty federal lawsuits over its 14,000 alleged rights-of-way. Those claims are brought under an obscure provision of the 1866 Mining Act, known as “R.S. 2477.” The Trump administration is trying to use RDIs to throw in the towel in that federal court litigation.

    “If there was ever a case of the camel’s nose under the tent, this is it” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “If the state of Utah succeeds with this first disclaimer it has thousands of similar claims blanketing Utah’s redrock country waiting in the wings. And make no mistake about it, if Utah secures title to these federal lands the state has been outspoken about its intent to pave these dirt roads and trails in an effort to take control of public lands and stop wilderness protection.”

    The George W. Bush administration was the first to attempt to use RDIs to give away public lands.  In 2003, the Interior Department issued regulations to guide the use of RDIs to cede control over claimed state and county R.S. 2477 rights-of-way. These regulations are contrary to a longstanding congressional prohibition, in place since 1997, on any such rules. Initial attempts by the Interior Department in the 2000s to issued RDIs in Utah were withdrawn.

    “National parks could be next on the chopping block,” said Kristen Brengel, senior vice president at the National Parks Conservation Association. “Today’s move by the Interior Department poses a real and immediate threat to national parks in Utah and across the West. Every cowpath and two-track can be claimed as a road and given away to virtually anyone under this regulation. Our national parks could be criss-crossed with roads in places where visitors enjoy the natural beauty and cultural sites.”

    The Department’s Bureau of Land Management is giving the public only 30 days during the busy holiday season to review its proposal and submit written comments. BLM may approve the state of Utah’s RDI application as soon as February 2020.

    “You can’t undo this kind of damage to our public lands legacy,” said Bobby McEnaney, director of the Dirty Energy Project at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Interior has a duty to act as a steward of the lands and resources we all own—managing them and holding them in trust for future generations. Instead, the Trump administration is brazenly liquidating cherished places in a mercenary fire sale to a state that admits it will exploit them. It’s a reckless move that leaves all of us ecologically poorer.”

    The 10-mile claimed R.S. 2477 right-of-way that Interior is proposing to give away is located in Washington County, in southwestern Utah. Maps depicting of the state of Utah’s claimed R.S. 2477 rights-of-way in Washington County are available here and here. Almost every county in the state of Utah has hundreds if not thousands of miles of claimed R.S. 2477 rights-of-way that could be given away through the RDI process.

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  • 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.