The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) continues its multi-year travel planning processes that will decide where motorized vehicles are and are not allowed to travel on roughly six million acres of public land in southern and eastern Utah.

Off-road vehicles (ORV) are one of the most significant threats to the redrock wilderness. They erode streambanks and leak oil into important riparian environments. They contribute to climate change and emit dust at levels that can be harmful to human health. ORV routes fragment important wildlife habitat and damage natural and cultural resources.

The BLM’s travel planning processes give us an opportunity to help shape reasonable, manageable, and forward-thinking travel plans—plans that will provide access to Utah’s public lands while also protecting redrock wilderness.

The agency has recently made progress on several of these plans. In February, the BLM’s Kanab field office opened public scoping for travel planning in the Paunsaugunt travel management area (TMA) just west of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. This comment period provided us an opportunity to review the network of routes the agency is considering designating as open to motorized use and raise issues the BLM must analyze moving forward. The Paunsaugunt TMA includes not only spectacular redrock wilderness but also a high concentration of unique and important cultural resources. Some of these resources lie within potential vehicle routes and are thus at literal risk of being run over and destroyed.

Back in 2020, the BLM completed a travel plan covering the San Rafael Desert. That plan more than doubled the mileage of routes open to ORVs. The agency recently closed roughly 35 miles of those routes after affirming they were “not apparent on the ground.” The BLM has also announced that before fall of 2022 it will revisit around 190 miles of its 2020 trail designations, emphasizing lands the agency has identified as having wilderness characteristics. Stay tuned for updates on this.

Looking forward, we expect to see a draft travel plan for the Labyrinth Rims/Gemini Bridges TMA from the Moab field office soon. As always, we will need your help to ensure that the BLM embraces management practices that protect Utah’s spectacular redrock wilderness.

—Kelsey Cruickshank

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, Spring 2022 issue)