• December 19th, 2019

    Last Friday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) released a draft travel management plan for the San Rafael Desert in Emery County, Utah that would more than double the number of miles open to motorized use—forever changing the area’s stunning and remote wild lands, and turning them into a playground for off-road vehicles.

    The San Rafael Desert is a sublime area of Utah’s backcountry, encompassing the newly-designated Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness and wilderness-quality lands such as Sweetwater Reef and the San Rafael River.

    Federal law requires the BLM to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. Instead, the agency’s draft travel management plan for the San Rafael Desert would inundate this remote area with off-road vehicle routes, increasing the miles open to motorized vehicles from 300 miles to more than 775.

    Click here to tell the BLM its draft plan for the San Rafael Desert is unacceptable and fails to minimize damage to natural and cultural resources.

    Labyrinth Canyon. © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    Among other things, the BLM’s preferred alternative would:

    • Designate as open to motorized vehicles more than 300 miles of routes that are reclaimed, reclaiming, or do not exist on the ground.  Designating these routes is unnecessary and will damage desert soils, vegetation, riparian areas, cultural resources and wildlife habitat.
    • Designate as open to motorized vehicles popular non-motorized areas such as Moonshine Wash (from the trailhead to the slot canyon), June’s Bottom, and along the San Rafael River.

    The San Rafael Desert travel management plan is the first of thirteen travel plans the BLM will complete over the next six years as a part of a court-supervised settlement agreement with conservation and off-road vehicle groups. The plans will determine where motorized vehicles are allowed on some of Utah’s wildest public lands.

    Tell the BLM to fulfill its legal obligation and keep motorized trails out of wildlife habitat, cultural sites, and other sensitive or inappropriate areas in the San Rafael Desert.

    The BLM is giving the public only 30 days during the busy holiday season to review its proposed travel management plan and submit written comments.

    Click here to submit your comments by January 13th.

    Also be sure to check out our story map for more information, including maps and photographs of currently-designated and proposed motorized vehicle routes.

  • December 16th, 2019

    Offers public only 30 days, including over the holidays, to submit comments on a plan that has been years in the making.

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

    Contact: 

    Laura Peterson, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801-236-3762, laura@suwa.org
    Soren Jespersen, The Wilderness Society, 970-819-7377, soren_jespersen@tws.org

    Salt Lake City, UT (December 16, 2019) – On Friday, December 13, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) quietly released a draft travel management plan for the San Rafael Desert in Emery County, Utah that will forever change the area’s stunning and remote wild lands, turning it into a playground for off-road vehicles.

    The San Rafael Desert travel plan is the first of thirteen travel plans that BLM will complete over the next six years as a part of a court-supervised settlement agreement with conservation and off-road vehicle groups. These thirteen travel plans will determine where motorized vehicles will be allowed in some of Utah’s wildest public lands, including the Dirty Devil, San Rafael Swell and Vermillion Cliffs.

    The San Rafael Desert is a sublime area of Utah’s backcountry, encompassing the newly-designated Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness and wilderness-quality lands such as Sweetwater Reef and the San Rafael River. It features stunning redrock canyons, important cultural sites, and an outstanding diversity of native pollinators (bees and wasps). BLM’s draft plan would inundate this remote area with off-road vehicle routes, more than doubling the miles open to motorized vehicles from 300 miles to more than 775 miles.

    Labyrinth Canyon, (c) Ray Bloxham/Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Re-use with attribution permitted.

    “The BLM’s draft travel plan is short-sighted and wholly fails to account for the diverse array of public land resources and user groups,” said Laura Peterson, staff attorney at Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “Rather than capitalize on an opportunity to develop a reasonable, manageable and forward-thinking travel plan that ensures public access while preserving the backcountry and minimizing damage, the BLM’s plan does exactly the opposite. It proposes to designate any cow path, wash bottom and line on a map as open to off-road vehicles. The BLM’s plan would open popular hiking trails to motorized vehicle use. It would designate routes that will bisect wildlife habitat, fragment wild lands and damage important cultural sites.”

    Federal law requires BLM to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources when designating motorized vehicle routes. This includes minimizing damage to soils, watershed, vegetation, wildlife habitat, and cultural sites; minimizing the harassment of wildlife as well as conflicts between different public land user groups; and minimizing impacts of motorized vehicle routes on wilderness values like naturalness and solitude. BLM’s San Rafael Desert travel plan falls woefully short of meeting its legal obligation.

    “BLM’s draft plan is as one-sided as they come,” said Soren Jespersen, Senior Field Representative at The Wilderness Society. “The plan would nearly double the amount of motorized roads and trails in the San Rafael Desert including by adding miles roads that do not exist on the ground today. This isn’t travel management, it’s a travel free-for-all, and it’s not what visitors to the San Rafael Desert come to experience.”

    The BLM is giving the public only 30 days during the busy holiday season to review its proposed travel management plan and submit written comments.

    More information, including maps and photographs of currently-designated and proposed motorized vehicle routes, is available here.

  • December 10th, 2019
    Mojave Desert Tortoise Graphic

    Utah’s public lands are facing death by a thousand cuts. And now the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area (NCA) near St. George—home to the densest population of threatened Mojave desert tortoise anywhere on earth—is on the chopping block.

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is being pressured by Washington County, Utah, to let the State of Utah build a four-lane highway through the heart of the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area.

    They’re  hoping to sneak this proposal through during the holiday season—and they’ve given just 30 days for the public to comment.

    Tell the BLM: no way to a highway through the Red Cliffs NCA!

    If this highway is allowed it will:

    ● Bisect Red Cliffs NCA east to west with a four-lane highway;

    ● Irrevocably damage habitat for the already-threatened Mojave desert tortoise and 20 other species of sensitive wildlife; and

    ● Set a terrible national precedent that National Conservation Areas can be bulldozed and paved.

    We can’t let Washington County succeed in creating a major loophole in the Endangered Species Act, letting them go back on a promise made in 1996 to permanently protect Red Cliffs, the threatened Mojave desert tortoise, and quality of life in southern Utah.

    Please take action today. Tell the BLM to protect the Mojave desert tortoise and the integrity of Red Cliffs National Conservation Area by rejecting the “Northern Corridor” highway proposal today.

    Click here to tell the BLM what you think of their plans to build a highway through Red Cliffs NCA.

    Thank you for taking action.

  • December 6th, 2019

    The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is considering giving away the United States’ interest to a 10-mile dirt road (the so-called “Manganese Road”) in the southwest corner of Utah. This is a test case brought by the State of Utah that, if successful, would open the door for the Trump administration to cede control of tens of thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails that Utah claims as rights-of-way across federal public lands.

    The State of Utah and its counties have filed more than 20 federal lawsuits claiming title to 14,000 alleged rights-of-way totaling approximately 35,000 miles. They are pursuing their claims under an obscure provision of the 1866 Mining Act known as “Revised Statute 2477” (aka R.S. 2477).

    A State of Utah R.S. 2477 claim in the Paria River streambed (Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Paria-Hackberry Wilderness Study Area). Photo © Ray Bloxham/SUWA

    The Trump administration’s BLM is trying to give the state a leg up by using a controversial and unlawful tool known as a “recordable disclaimer of interest” (RDI) to simply surrender control over federal public lands to the State of Utah and its counties. In other words, the BLM is essentially telling the state “don’t bother with that cumbersome litigation, we’ll just give you everything you’re after.”

    Click here to tell the BLM to reject the state’s unlawful RDI application! The public comment deadline is this Monday, December 9th.

    If the State of Utah succeeds with this first disclaimer it has thousands of similar claims blanketing Utah’s redrock country waiting in the wings. Many of these claims are nothing more than cow paths, streambeds, and two-tracks in the desert.

    And make no mistake about it, if Utah secures title to these federal lands it has been outspoken about its intent to widen, improve, and even pave these dirt paths and trails in an effort to take control of public lands and prevent wilderness protection.

    The BLM is giving the public only 30 days during the busy holiday season to review Utah’s proposal and submit written comments. To make matters worse, the agency is only providing the one-sided application from Utah for reference and is refusing to share the agency’s own information and analysis about this claim.  At this point the BLM does not plan to offer a second comment period to allow the public to review and comment on the agency’s findings.

    The BLM may approve the State of Utah’s RDI application as soon as February 2020.

    Please join with our Senate champion Richard Durbin, along with Senators Feinstein, Baldwin, Udall, and Heinrich, and tell the BLM to reject Utah’s RDI application.

    Thank you!