Off Road Vehicles - Page 2 of 13


  • January 25th, 2021

    State of Utah’s sprawling litigation claiming more than 12,000 dirt paths and stream bottoms as “highways” threatens redrock wilderness across the state

    Contacts: Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981, steve@suwa.org 

    Phil Hanceford, The Wilderness Society, 303.815.3158, phil_hanceford@tws.org

    Brian Fletcher, Stanford Law School Supreme Court Clinic, 917.453.9477, bfletcher@stanford.edu 

    Salt Lake City – Today, the US Supreme Court denied requests by the US Solicitor General and the State of Utah to overturn a 2019 decision that granted two conservation groups, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society, the right to intervene in a sweeping series of lawsuits that threatens to riddle the state’s wildest public lands with roads.

    In what are known as petitions for writ of certiorari, the United States and Utah attempted to overturn a decision by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals by contending that the conservation groups’ undeniable interests in southern Utah’s remarkable red rock wilderness were insufficient to permit intervention in the litigation. The Supreme Court denied the petitions in an unsigned order issued this morning.

    “We’re pleased the Supreme Court denied these petitions and look forward to vigorously defending our members’ and the United States’ interests in the wildest, most remote corners of southern Utah,” said Stephen Bloch, legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “The State’s litigation, claiming highways in stream bottoms and cow paths, has always been about who controls federal public lands in Utah, with the goal to riddle these landscapes with roads and make them ineligible for congressional Wilderness designation. This absolutely cuts to the core of our mission.”

    A State of Utah R.S. 2477 claim in the Paria River streambed (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Paria-Hackberry Wilderness Study Area). Photo © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    “We are focused on using science and common sense to protect our land, our air, and our water for the health of our communities and for future generations,” said Phil Hanceford, Conservation Director at The Wilderness Society. “Today’s decision not to review our participation in this important case recognized that our input is valuable when decisions are made about the impacts development could have on our shared public lands. There are appropriate places for roads, but cutting through Utah’s spectacular red rock wildlands and creek beds are not those places.”

    The conservation groups had sought to intervene in the litigation to defend the United States’ title in so-called R.S. 2477 rights of way, referring to an obscure provision in the 1866 Mining Act that authorized the construction of highways across the western frontier to support settlement and development. Utah has weaponized this long-repealed law to file more than 20 lawsuits alleging more than 12,000 rights of way totaling more than 32,000 miles across federal public lands in the state. Rather than constitute any kind of a reasonable rural transportation network, the vast majority of these claimed highways are in fact unmaintained dirt two-tracks, cow paths and stream bottoms. Thousands of miles of Utah’s claimed highways are located in national parks, national monuments, designated wilderness areas, and other wild Utah lands.

    Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society are represented by Jeffrey Fisher, Brian Fletcher and Pamela Karlan at Stanford Law School’s Supreme Court Litigation Clinic; Chad Derum and Trevor Lee at the Salt Lake City law firm Manning Curtis Bradshaw & Bednar; and Stephen Bloch and Michelle White at the Utah-based Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

  • September 29th, 2020

    SUWA Staff Attorney Laura Peterson discusses the recent decision by the Utah Bureau of Land Management to more than double the number of off-road vehicle routes across the wild San Rafael Desert. We get her perspective on the decision, how it will affect future BLM travel planning across Utah, and what this means for SUWA’s efforts to protect wild Utah from motorized mayhem in our remaining wild places.

     
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  • 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.