Off Road Vehicles Archives - Page 9 of 10

  • December 2nd, 2010

    Yesterday, we released our new “2010 Report Card:  Assessing Utah BLM’s Management of Off-Road Vehicles.”  Off-road vehicle (ORV) use on Utah’s public lands is an enormously controversial public lands issue, and ORV-caused damage – erosion, water pollution, noise, air-borne dust, crushed and looted archaeological sites — continues to increase.  Based upon BLM’s failure to comply with federal law and protect natural and historical resources from ORVs, we had to give BLM failing and very low grades for most categories.  Those of us who love Utah’s wild country are fed up with the damage, and it’s way past time for BLM to fix this mess.

    A growing body of scientific research conducted by federal agencies, universities, and independent scientists that conclude that ORV use is damaging to a variety of natural resources and Utah’s wealth of archaeological resources.  (You don’t really need scientists to tell you this – many of us have seen the damage first hand on one of our trips to the desert.)

    In particular, research demonstrates that ORV use near archaeological structures, rock art and other artifacts increases the risk of vandalism and looting of Utah’s irreplaceable archaeological treasures.

    Scientific research also shows that ORV use in Utah’s streams and waterways is especially harmful.  These areas (referred to as “riparian areas” by the BLM) make up just 1 % of Utah’s public lands, yet support over 80% of wildlife species.  ORV use increases sedimentation, destroys healthy stream banks and vegetation, increases water temperatures and lowers the water table, threatening fish and other stream life,  plants and valuable wildlife habitat.

    In addition, federal agency research concludes that ORV use exacerbates the effects of climate change on the Colorado Plateau by eroding soils and contributing to the large dust storms that blanket Colorado’s mountains with dust resulting in earlier and faster snow melt, degrading water supplies, and spreading invasive weeds that increase the risk of wildfires.

    Our 2010 Report Card assesses BLM’s ORV plans, completed in 2008, for 11 million acres in eastern and southern Utah.  These plans put an end to the free-for-all ORV management of the past decades – a step in the right direction.

    However, rather than comply with federal law that requires BLM to protect the air, water, archaeological sites, scenic values, and ecology of our public lands, and to “minimize” the impacts of ORV use on these resources and the landscape, the agency designated a dense network of 20,000 miles of ORV routes – enough to drive between New York City and Los Angeles seven times!

    And, unfortunately, these ORV plans allow ORV use in many of the most sensitive areas, including in streambeds and wildlife habitat, across archaeological sites, and in roadless areas.  The 2008 plans close only 15% of the lands to ORV use, even though BLM’s own survey data shows that less than 10% of visitors to public lands use ORVs while 90% of visitors enjoy recreational pursuits other than ORVing on Utah’s public lands.

    BLM has the authority to fix these plans, and we propose a solution that would provide immediate protection for the most sensitive areas and resources:  BLM should close routes located in scarce desert streams, in areas known to have dense concentrations of archaeological sites, and in roadless areas.  This would entail closing around 3,000 miles of route, leaving 17,000 miles of route available for ORV use.  This easy solution would help restore a sense of balance to the public lands, and protect a few places from the long-term damages caused by ORV use.

    Please see the Utah Wilderness News for press coverage on the ORV Report Card release.

  • December 2nd, 2010

    SUWA issues the BLM a Report Card on ORV management

    Video Courtesy of

    “Zach Frankel with the Utah Rivers Council said, ‘There’s nothing wrong with ATV recreation. The issue with the BLM is how they are managed.’

    The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), the Utah Rivers Council and the Utah Chapter Sierra Club give the BLM poor marks for protecting the environment and cultural resources from ORV damage.  Read the full ORV Report Card

    Liz Thomas with SUWA said, ‘They haven’t taken the necessary steps to protect these resources from the know damages that occur from off-road vehicle use.'”  Read more –

    Arch Canyon remains an example of poor ORV management

    “SUWA’s report card for the BLM’s management of off-roaders gives the agency a ‘D’ in protecting the environment, an ‘F’ in appreciating history and other cultures, but a ‘B’ for improving on the freewheeling access the group says existed before the 2008 travel plans.

    SUWA already is suing the government over those plans, which designated about 20,000 miles of travel routes stretching from the Four Corners to Richfield to Flaming Gorge. Some of those dirt trails — about 3,000 miles — are in stream bottoms, archaeological sites or large, roadless areas.

    ‘Closing less than 15 percent [of the trails] clearly would not preclude off-road vehicle use in southern Utah,’ said Thomas, the SUWA attorney.'”  Read more – The Salt Lake Tribune

    But off-roaders say riding responsibly is good enough

    “The SUWA report sites the BLM allows off-roading on archaeological sites where vandalism and looting occurs. They also say they did not conduct environmental impact studies as required by law and failed to protect streams, fish and wildlife habitats.

    ‘Off road vehicle use on public lands is probably the most controversial and damaging uses and it’s growing,’ said Liz Thomas, who is an attorney that works with SUWA.”  Read more – Fox13 News

    Other coverage: Associated Press

    Read the full ORV Report Card

  • November 29th, 2010
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    Glen Canyon National Recreation Area
    photo by Ray Bloxham

    The Glen Canyon National Recreation Area (GCNRA) encompasses a significant portion of Utah’s redrock country in southern Utah. Authorized in 1972 and managed by the National Park Service (NPS), it covers 1.25 million acres of remote and wild canyon country. This magnificent landscape is surrounded by equally impressive lands in Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks, the Vermilion Cliffs and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments, BLM-managed wilderness-quality lands, and the Navajo Nation. NPS is currently drafting an off-road vehicle (ORV) plan for the GCNRA. You can help preserve some of southern Utah’s most beautiful wildlands from the long-term scars and impacts of ORV use by submitting comments on the plan by November 30.

    The GCNRA was designated to “. . . preserve the scenic, scientific, and historic features contributing to the pubic enjoyment of the area . . .” in addition to providing for the recreational use and enjoyment of Lake Powell and the adjacent lands. Although the primary feature of the GCNRA is Lake Powell, the remaining 87% is undeveloped lands, containing pre-historic cultural sites, wildlife habitat, and outstanding opportunities for a pure wilderness experience. NPS has recommended nearly one-half of the GCNRA for wilderness designation. These lands must be protected from ORV impacts.

    Currently, NPS allows street legal ATVs  to drive on all dirt routes in the GCNRA (more than 300 miles), even though Canyonlands and Capitol Reef National Parks prohibit the use of ATVs within the parks. The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument restricts them to a few routes. In addition, some of the routes NPS proposes for ATV and other motor vehicle use in the GCNRA lead to trails closed to public and/or ATV use in the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, in Canyonlands National Park, and to lands proposed for wilderness.

    Please urge the Superintendent of the GCNRA to comply with the Executive Order No. 11644 governing ORV use in the GCNRA, which requires NPS to protect the natural resources and public lands from ORV impacts, to promote public safety of all users of those lands, and to minimize impacts to natural resources and the conflicts among various users of those lands and to allow ATV and other ORV use on routes and in “open areas” only after NPS has determined that such use will not affect the natural, aesthetic or scenic values of the areas in which the routes or “open” areas are located. Finally, please urge the Superintendent to protect the lands recommended for wilderness designation and the irreplaceable cultural resources of the GCNRA from the impacts of off-road vehicle use.

    Thank you for all you do!

  • September 8th, 2010

    President Obama signed a Presidential Proclamation last week which recognized September as “National Wilderness Month.” Invoking the “majesty of our Nation’s wilderness” and a rich legacy of past wilderness legislation, the president rightly recognized that “we must ensure that future generations can experience the tranquility and grandeur of America’s
    natural places.”

    But even as President Obama emphasized the need to protect the natural heritage of future generations, over at the Department of Interior, Secretary Ken Salazar has kept in place highly destructive policies initiated by the Bush administration which threaten the pristine natural beauty, quiet and solitude of worthy wilderness-quality lands throughout the West.

    The Bush administration’s infamous “No More Wilderness” policy, hatched as part of a back-room settlement with the State of Utah, broke with history and for the first time declared that the Bureau of Land Management would no longer identify and protect eligible lands as “wilderness study areas.” These WSAs, as they are frequently called, are protected from off-road vehicle (ORV) use, new roads, oil and gas drilling and other development until Congress ultimately decides their fate through

    Then the Bush administration doubled down and used the “No More Wilderness” policy as the backbone for six land use plans it issued for 11 million acres of Utah’s spectacular redrock canyon country. With wilderness now the only resource which the BLM would not manage or protect, the final plans left 80% of these lands open to oil and gas drilling and designated an astounding 20,000 miles of ORV routes.  Balanced stewardship of our natural heritage? Not even close.

    In some of the plans, every single riparian area has an ORV trail, leading to pollution, erosion, shrinking water availability and lost wildlife habitat. These crucial oases have been whittled down to 1% of Utah’s land mass and support 75-80% of wildlife species, yet BLM manages them as ORV playgrounds. Climate change, the overriding influence on the health of BLM lands, got just three paragraphs of the same boilerplate language in each of the 1,000-page Environmental Impact Statements instead of any real analysis.

    Not only does the “No More Wilderness” policy live on in the Obama administration, but Secretary Salazar has failed to revise the 2008 land use plans to reflect better balance either or real wilderness protection.

    Here’s what Secretary Salazar must do to restore balance and give wilderness landscapes the protection they need: immediately rescind the “No More Wilderness” policy and reinstate the previous process in which the agency identified qualifying lands and then planned for their future management as WSAs. BLM managers are familiar with this process and there’s no ambiguity in how WSAs are to be managed. Accept no substitute: Anything less will lead to endless disagreements about management and interpretation, to the detriment of some of the most spectacular landscapes in the country.

    Additionally, the Secretary must direct the BLM to take another look at the woefully inadequate and unbalanced Resource Management Plans and put in place management strategies that ensure the future sustainability of these truly wondrous places.

    You may be wondering: why are we still talking about this a full eighteen months into the Obama administration? Good question. You ask them . . . send a message to Secretary Salazar and email the Obama administration at or use the White House webform at

  • September 3rd, 2010

    From the dictionary:

    may·hem [mey-hem] –noun A state of rowdy disorder

    Last week SUWA Attorney Liz Thomas announced plans for our ORV Mayhem contest. The purpose is to make our supporters aware of the type of Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) use taking place, legally, on Utah’s public lands by submitting the best (actually worst) ORV Mayhem videos they can find online or in their own video stash showing the crazy antics and associated resource damage that the Utah Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is allowing ORVs to inflict on our public lands.  Since then, I’ve had the chance to think about the idea of “rowdy disorder” in a larger context.

    Yes, mayhem is one word to describe the experience of watching a group of ATV’s churning in a long, noisy, dust-encrusted line through the middle of what might otherwise be a nearly infinite wild area.  The continual revving and squealing of highly-modified jeeps being forced up sandstone walls far steeper than their designers intended is mayhem, as is the full-panicked scattering of frightened wildlife—fish/deer/birds—in advance of hissing, steaming vehicles as they crash through a once pristine desert creek environment.

    “Rowdy disorder” is also an accurate term to describe the political influence of the ORV community.  Why, for example, when only 7% of visitors to BLM lands in the Moab area responding to a survey said that their main activity was ORV use, are 81% of the lands overseen by the Moab BLM Office open to them?

    Or right now in San Juan County, over 80% of the public lands are within 1 mile of an ORV route and less than 10% of these far-flung lands are farther than 2 miles from a motor vehicle route.

    Our question is:  why is this not enough?  Why has San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams stated that his county favors opening even more areas to ORVs by creating a system of access roads?  Why does Utah BLM allow ORV use on about 90% of our public lands, to the detriment of other users and the natural resources?

    The answer: the generally inexplicable influence a few noisy ORV enthusiasts have on local county officials, who in turn influence Utah BLM officials, who in turn influence the agency’s ORV decisions on up the ladder.  It’s not rational, we know.

    The ORV community would have the world believe that the “left-wing environmental mafia” (SUWA) would like to build a fence around a 9.4 million acre blob of wilderness in the middle of southern Utah, excluding anyone but the most fit and serious backpackers.  This is simply not true.  America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act consists of dozens of different wilderness areas bounded by literally thousands of miles of legitimate routes currently being used by ORV enthusiasts, but also mountain bikers, hikers accessing the backcountry, or families in minivans.  Passage of the Red Rock bill would mean closing a very small percentage of ORV trails (about 15% in southern and eastern Utah).  Many of these are trails that don’t actually go anywhere, or there is no compelling reason for their existence; many duplicate another route.  (In San Juan County, for example, if all the wilderness in the Red Rock bill were designated, it would close 900 out of 5,000 miles of trails (less than 18%) — many of which traverse culturally-sensitive areas and streambeds, or are little used and all but impossible to find on the ground.)

    ”ORV Mayhem” – the sometimes extreme rhetoric and politics of the ORV community – perpetuates unnecessary damage to our last remaining wild lands.  The time to end the mayhem is now.