BLM to Revisit ORV Travel Plans for Over 6 Million Acres

On the last day of May, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a fairly routine order granting an unopposed joint motion by several parties to dismiss three separate appeals. The court issues dozens of such orders on any given day. The overwhelming majority escape any notice.

In this instance, though, the modest ending dramatically underplays the event’s significance: it marks an end to nearly eight-and-a-half years of SUWA-led litigation to undo the worst aspects of the 2008 Bush-era resource management and off-road vehicle (ORV) travel plans.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and several ORV groups asked the court to dismiss their appeals. They, along with SUWA, are parties to the court-approved settlement agreement which brought this litigation to a close. The third party which sought dismissal—the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration—expressly indicated that it did not oppose the settlement.

The Ragged Mountain proposed wilderness in the Henry Mountains and Fremont Gorge travel management area. Copyright Ray Bloxham/SUWA

The Tenth Circuit’s order clears the way for the Utah BLM to begin immediately implementing a comprehensive settlement agreement that will result in the completion of 13 new ORV travel management plans over the next 8 years. They will cover more than 6 million acres of BLM-managed lands in eastern and southern Utah.

The Bush-era travel plans riddled wilderness landscapes like Labyrinth Canyon, the San Rafael Swell, Upper Kanab Creek, and the Book Cliffs with ORV trails. The agency will revisit those plans in a more transparent process that expressly considers “lands with wilderness character” as well as cultural resources, and which seeks to minimize impacts to those unique resources.

The Utah BLM will also consider the designation of three areas of critical environmental concern (ACECs) and update and prepare air quality-related reports and studies that will inform future BLM decisions regarding oil and gas development.
The State of Utah and several counties may yet decide to challenge the “fairness” of the settlement agreement in a second round of appeals to the Tenth Circuit. Even if they do we are confident that the settlement is well supported and will withstand scrutiny.

—Steve Bloch

(From Redrock Wilderness newsletter, summer 2017 issue)