First of six Bush-era land use plans heard in court

Mount Ellen proposed wilderness
The Mount Ellen proposed wilderness in the Henry Mountains. Copyright Ray Bloxham.

Attorneys for SUWA and Earthjustice recently argued in federal district court to overturn a Bush-era land use plan.  The Richfield Resource Management Plan and Off-Highway Vehicle Travel Plan was completed in late 2008 and prioritized oil and gas development and motorized vehicles above all other uses of the public lands.  Of more than 680,000 acres of BLM identified wilderness character lands, the Richfield plans only manage 78,600 acres to protect wilderness values (and then just barely).  This is just the first of six Bush-era plans challenged by SUWA and our conservation partners to be heard in court.

The Richfield Field Office covers many iconic southern Utah landscapes, including places like the Dirty Devil River Complex, the Henry Mountains, and the southern San Rafael Swell.  In addition, it is home to some of the Colorado Plateau’s most significant cultural resources and contains evidence of human habitation dating back more than 10,000 years.

The Richfield Plan ignored the damage off-road vehicles can do to open land, streams, wildlife and endangered species.  In particular, the BLM failed to follow its own “Minimization” regulations when it designated more than 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails for motorized use.  Those minimization regulations were first laid out in an Executive Order by President Nixon in 1972 and require the BLM to “minimize damage to soil, watershed, vegetation, air, or other resources of the public lands, and to prevent impairment of wilderness suitability.”

The BLM’s failure to minimize the damage caused by motorized vehicles throughout the Richfield office threatens cultural resources and will lead to violations of air quality standards.  The Richfield Plan also failed to address the impacts of off-road vehicle use in the context of climate change, to prioritize the designation of areas of critical environmental importance, and to consider eligible river segments for inclusion in the Wild and Scenic Rivers system.

We expect a decision in this important case later in 2013.