As you no doubt have heard, the National Park Service (NPS) recently abandoned a proposal to allow certain off-road vehicles in Utah’s national parks and monuments.
That proposal provoked enough public outrage to force the Trump administration to reverse course and keep the longtime closure of park roads to off-road vehicles. And that reversal came in part because SUWA members like you spoke out against sacrificing our national parks to ATVs and UTVs.
But the controversy also raises a broader question: where do off-road vehicles belong on our public lands?
The time for answering that question is now before us. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently in the midst of a planning process that will result in 13 new travel management plans covering more than six million acres of BLM-managed lands in eastern and southern Utah.
These plans—to be completed over the next eight years—will determine where motorized vehicles are allowed in some of Utah’s most stunning and remote wild lands, such as the Dirty Devil, San Rafael Swell, and Labyrinth Canyon.
And in the coming months and years, we’re going to again need SUWA members like you to speak out against turning our public lands into off-road vehicle playgrounds.
The new travel plans are the result of SUWA and its conservation partners’ litigation of six travel plans released at the end of the George W. Bush administration.
Those plans smothered Utah’s public lands with a dense spider web of thousands of miles of motorized routes, prioritizing off-road vehicles at the expense of Utah’s cultural and natural resources. Routes designated in the these plans cross directly through cultural sites considered sacred by Native Americans and bisect wildlife habitat valued by Utah’s hunters and non-hunters alike. The Bush-era plans also exacerbated conflict with non-motorized public lands users.
But in 2013, the federal courts found that those Bush-era travel plans violated the law by failing to minimize impacts to natural and cultural resources. Under the ensuing settlement agreement between the BLM, conservation organizations and off-road vehicle groups, the BLM is required to rewrite travel plans with more than motorized users in mind.
Which brings us to this once-in-a-generation opportunity.
At SUWA, we view the forthcoming travel plans as an opportunity to develop reasonable, manageable and forward-thinking blueprints that ensure public access while preserving the backcountry and minimizing damage.
This new planning process gives the BLM a second chance to get things right, ensuring access to trailheads, scenic overlooks and recreation opportunities while protecting the very reason people want to drive to such remote places in the first place: to enjoy the unspoiled beauty of Utah’s unparalleled public lands.
Much has changed in the decade since the BLM released its flawed, Bush-era travel plans. Visitation to Utah has skyrocketed—fueled by the State of Utah’s advertising and the rise of social media—and shows no sign of diminishing. More people are seeking out new types of recreation as technology changes: today’s off-road vehicles are designed to go more places faster than ever before. We are also grappling with a climate crisis, bringing new challenges to Utah’s public land managers.
But one thing hasn’t changed in the last decade: SUWA is still here, fighting every day to protect Utah wilderness and to preserve the redrock for generations to come.
We’ll be telling you more about the BLM’s travel planning process in the coming months, and once again it is your voice that will make the difference. Rather than viewing this process as a burden, the BLM should take advantage of this opportunity to protect our shared heritage and craft visionary plans that will endure for years to come.
Utah’s wild places deserve no less.