Remember four years ago when the Bush administration—just as it was slinking out of office— released six disastrous resource management plans (RMPs) and off-road vehicle travel plans for more than 11 million acres of Utah’s BLM-managed lands?  Remember how millions of acres of redrock wilderness were left on the cutting room floor, shredded to ribbons by thousands of miles of new ORV trails and identified as prime lands for new oil and gas leases?

Painful, isn’t it?  We’d like to forget those days, too.  But there is far too much at stake in those plans to let them stand.  SUWA has led a coalition of local, regional, and national conservation groups to challenge the plans in federal court.  That legal fight is finally starting to come to a head.

The abysmal Richfield RMP severely shortchanges wilderness in places like the Mount Pennell (above) and Dirty Devil proposed wilderness areas. Photo by Ray Bloxham/SUWA.

First up is the RMP and ORV travel plans for lands overseen by the Richfield BLM office.  This area is home to some of the nation’s wildest, most spectacular and remote public lands.  Among them are the Henry Mountains (Mount Pennell and Mount Ellen), the Dirty Devil, and the Little Rockies proposed wilderness areas.  The RMP is particularly notable for just how terribly it treated proposed wilderness.  The BLM identified a few potential areas of critical environmental concern (ACECs), and eligible wild and scenic rivers: a pittance in both cases.  The numbers speak for themselves.

Of the 682,600 acres under the Richfield office’s jurisdiction that the BLM agreed have wilderness character, the RMP proposes to manage fewer than 79,000 acres to protect that character.  For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 12 percent.  Then there are 886,810 acres of potential ACECs.  Congress has directed the BLM to prioritize the designation and protection of ACECs.  The Richfield RMP designated 2,530 acres.  That’s 0.3 percent of the potential ACEC acreage, and 12,250 acres fewer than were protected under the agency’s prior plan.

Rivers did not fare much better.  The agency found 12 river segments totaling 135 miles eligible for Wild and Scenic River designation (including over 50 miles of the Dirty Devil River).  But the Richfield RMP recommended a single five-mile stretch of the Fremont River as suitable for that protective status.

Parsimonious with protection, the plan was lavish in giveaways to the off-road vehicle crowd.  The plan designated more than 4,300 miles of ORV trails, including 454 miles of trail on BLM-recognized wilderness caliber lands.  Many of these trails never existed until the BLM approved the Richfield plan and scurried about after the fact to plant signs identifying the routes on the ground.

Bottom line, the Richfield RMP and ORV travel plans fairly represent all that was wrong from the Bush-era.  They are squarely in our crosshairs.  We will be briefing this case over the next several months and expect to have oral argument in early summer of 2013.

—Steve Bloch

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, Autumn/Winter 2012 issue)