Conservation Groups Sue BLM Over Decision to Allow Cross-Country Motorized Use around Utah’s Remarkable Factory Butte

BLM’s “wild west” mentality will deface Utah landscape

For Immediate Release

Contact:
Laura Peterson, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-236-3762
Anne Hawke, Natural Resources Defense Council, 646-823-4518
Phil Hanceford, The Wilderness Society, 303-225-4636

Salt Lake City, UT (August 1, 2019) – Three conservation organizations filed suit today in federal district court in Utah challenging the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to open 5,400 acres of federal public lands around Utah’s Factory Butte to unrestricted cross-country motorized use.  The Natural Resources Defense Council, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and The Wilderness Society filed the lawsuit asking the court to reverse the BLM’s unlawful decision and direct that the closure be reinstated.

The BLM’s May 22, 2019 decision reversed a closure order that had been in place for more than twelve years. The agency gave no prior notice or opportunity for public input.  Its reversal just before Memorial Day weekend allowed vehicles to immediately mar this remarkable landscape.

“It was irresponsible and anti-democratic for BLM to secretly open up this area and subject its ecosystem to destruction,” said Sharon Buccino, senior director for Lands at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The agency’s earlier move to close this area was a sound decision, based on science and extensive public input. BLM has to balance different uses of our public lands, but the ring around Factory Butte is no place for off road vehicles, which damage the soil and threaten endangered species.”

“The BLM’s decision to allow destructive, unregulated cross-country motorized use to overrun the remarkable public lands surrounding Factory Butte – one of Utah’s most well-known landmarks – is outrageous,” said Laura Peterson, attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Though it refused to provide the public with any advance notice of its decision, the BLM consulted ahead of time with local counties and even shared its press release and promotional materials.  That’s clearly not the way our federal public lands are supposed to be managed.”

The BLM did not explain its reasoning or provide an environmental analysis for its decision. Instead, BLM concocted a rationale days after its decision to lift the closure when BLM Richfield field officer manager Joelle McCarthy wrote a brief “Memo to File” on May 24, 2019. This memo was not made available to the public until May 28, 2019.

“Sneaking this plan out without public input shows that the BLM knew the public would be outraged by the decision to open treasured lands to unfettered motorized use that will permanently scar the land,” said Phil Hanceford, attorney for The Wilderness Society. “Anyone who has traveled through this area just outside of Capitol Reef National Park has marveled at the Factory Butte and the surrounding wilderness quality lands.  The BLM’s actions are unacceptable and we believe the courts will agree.”

BLM’s decision to reverse a 2006 closure of the area to ORV use will allow unrestricted motorized travel throughout two “play areas” totaling a combined 5,400 acres.

The 2006 closure followed a petition Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance filed with the BLM outlining the devastating effects of unmanaged cross-country travel by ORVs in this area. The BLM concluded that closure was necessary to protect federally-listed cactus species, including the endangered Wright fishhook from 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.

Photographs of the remarkable Factory Butte area are available on SUWA’s website, along with a timeline of OHV use at Factory Butte and a point-by-point refutation of BLM’s misleading arguments about why it lifted the closure on cross-country motorized use.

A copy of the complaint can be viewed here.

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