A coalition of eight conservation groups filed suit today in federal court to force the Bureau of Land Management to begin controlling runaway abuse of public lands by off-road vehicles (ORVs). The suit seeks to force the BLM to comply with existing laws that require it to control damage by ORVs, and to close to motorized vehicles a number of areas that are proposed wilderness areas, pending development of a designated trail system. The suit follows a year and a half long investigation by SUWA into the growing problem, which showed that ORVs are harming public lands while the BLM fails to enforce its rules.
"The land is being damaged every day, and immediate action is needed to control the abuse. Everyone from conservationists to ORV groups to the BLM agrees there is a problem. We hope the court will send a strong message to the BLM to do its job and enforce the law," said Heidi McIntosh, Conservation Director for SUWA.
The lawsuit is a precedent-setting action, as it makes the first time the agency, which manages 23 million acres in Utah alone, is being sued on a statewide basis for failing to control ORV abuse.
Last month, SUWA released its report "Overriding Utah Wilderness: The Search for Balance and Quiet in Utah's Wilderness," documenting the toll the land has taken as a result of BLM inaction. Some areas, such Indian Creek and San Rafael Reef have been so damaged by ORV abuse that their eligibility for wilderness protection is jeopardized.
"There needs to be some balance between motorized and non-motorized users. Ninety four percent of BLM land is open to ORVs, and it is increasingly harder to get away from the roar of an engine or the damage these vehicles cause." McIntosh noted that even if the BLM closes the proposed wilderness areas to ORV use, "there are 104,000 miles of dirt trails and roads in Utah outside of the citizens wilderness proposal. The idea that they will have no where to ride is simply untrue." said McIntosh.
Results of recent polling by Dan Jones and Associates indicate that a move to limit ORVs would enjoy broad support among Utahns. Over 68% believe that ORVs are damaging public lands, and 88% believed that there should be areas off limits to ORVs. "People want to be able to enjoy their public lands without having to worry about listening to the whine of ATV engines," said Pam Eaton, regional director of The Wilderness Society. "Most users of ORVs want to do the right thing, and don't want to damage the landscape. Clearly, the BLM needs to exhibit some leadership and help resolve these conflicts so that all kinds of visitors to Utah's public lands can enjoy their experience."
"We're a bunch of little old grandmas who have no trouble getting into the wilderness on our own two feet. This idea you need a machine to get somewhere is just a bunch of macho bunk," said Susan Tixier, Executive Director of Great Old Broads for Wilderness, a co-plaintiff in the suit.
In addition to SUWA, the parties to the lawsuit include The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, American Lands Alliance, Utah Council of Trout Unlimited, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Friends of the Abajos, and Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads, whose combined memberships total almost 800,000. The coalition of conservation groups is being represented by attorneys from SUWA and the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund.
Pam Eaton, The Wilderness Society (303) 650-5818
Robert Wiygul, Earthjustice (303) 623-9466
Tom Price, SUWA (801) 486-3161