Without prior notice or opportunity for public input, the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Richfield Field Office announced on Wednesday, May 22, 2019 — just before Memorial Day weekend — that it is has opened 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 the agency’s 2006 closure of the area to ORV use and will allow unrestricted motorized travel throughout the designated “play area.” At the time BLM implemented the 2006 closure it explained that “Factory Butte itself is an iconic formation, highly visible from Highway 24 and is often photographed.”
The BLM has opened 5,400 acres of public lands surrounding Utah’s iconic Factory Butte to unfettered cross-country off-road vehicle (ORV) use. There is no signage telling riders where they have entered the closed area near the butte itself. Re-use with attribution (courtesy of Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance) permitted.
Call or email Joelle McCarthy, the BLM’s Richfield Field Office Manager:
Tell her what you think of the BLM’s decision to open Factory Butte to unrestricted off-road vehicle abuse!
- It is ridiculous for the BLM to rely on a comment period from roughly 12 years ago to justify its decision to open Factory Butte to destructive cross-country ORV use. Conditions and land use trends in and around Factory Butte have changed on the ground in the intervening years. The mancos shale soil has finally begun to recover after decades of damage from ORVs.
The BLM claims that opening these particular 5,400 acres to cross-country ORV travel was subject to public comment. That is not true. The agency’s 2006 draft Richfield Resource Management Plan (RMP) did not have a single alternative that would have opened the 5,400 acres at issue in the Factory Butte special recreation management area to ORV use. The closest the agency came was analyzing an alternative that would have opened 200,000 acres of the Factory Butte area to cross-country ORV use. In fact the agency’s preferred alternative in the draft RMP would have kept the 5,400 acre area (the one the agency just opened) closed to cross-country use. The BLM changed its mind after opportunities for public comment had ended, designating the area open to cross-country use in 2008 when it issued its FINAL environmental impact statement and RMP. At that point, all the public could do was file a formal protest. The public could not comment on the decision. The area was not immediately opened, however, as the BLM continued to honor a closure they had put in place in response to a petition filed by SUWA in 2005 which raised concerns about damage to threatened and endangered plants and other impacts. The BLM lifted that closure – without any opportunity for public comment – the Friday before Memorial Day weekend.
- The BLM should have been open and transparent in its decision-making and given the public a chance to review and comment on its decision to lift the closure protecting endangered plants. Instead, the agency hustled to open the area right before what is often one of the busiest weekends of the year and without giving the public any advance notice of the 180-degree change from roughly 12 years of the closure order prohibiting such use. The BLM manages places like Factory Butte on behalf of the public and is accountable for its decisions.
- The BLM is destroying an iconic landscape! The agency’s decision ensures that one of Utah’s most recognizable landscapes will be defaced and damaged for years to come. Contrary to popular myth, these tracks don’t simply disappear after the next rain!
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.
Longtime SUWA members will recall that protecting Factory Butte was a major fight in the late 90s and early 2000s. The closure of the area to ORV abuse in 2006 gave the land a much-needed chance to recover.
The BLM’s decision is further proof that the Trump administration has found its legs, and that no previous environmental victory is safe from those who would destroy Utah’s wildlands.
Although the BLM lifted the closure ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, on Wednesday May 22, 2019, it didn’t set forth its rationale for doing so until Richfield field office manager Joelle McCarthy wrote a brief “memo to file” two days later, on May 24. Click on the image to the right to read “The Truth About BLM’s Decision to Open Factory Butte to ORV Destruction.”
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 (Sclerocactus 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.