Yesterday a coalition of conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) moved one step closer to overturning the highly unbalanced land management decisions in the Bureau of Land Management’s Richfield field office resource management plan or “Richfield RMP.” As a direct result of this plan, world-renown southern Utah wilderness landscapes like the Dirty Devil Canyon complex (including Butch Cassidy’s infamous redoubt, Robber’s Roost), the Henry Mountains (the last mountain range to be mapped in the lower 48 states), and Factory Butte were put at risk from off-road vehicle damage.
The BLM designated over 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails for off-road vehicle use in the Richfield RMP, including more than 95 percent of the rights-of-way (known as alleged R.S. 2477 rights-of-way) claimed by the State of Utah and its counties. The BLM did so without first considering the impacts designating off-road vehicle use on such a spider web of routes would have to wildlife, cultural resources, or riparian areas. In fact, BLM staff had not even visited many of the routes they designated.
On December 20, the groups filed their opening brief challenging the legality of the Richfield RMP and alleged the BLM’s plan violated a host of federal land management, environmental protection and cultural resource laws. The matter is being heard in the United States District Court for the District of Utah.
In 2008 the Salt Lake Tribune and New York Times panned the Richfield RMP as inappropriately prioritizing off-road vehicle use and energy development above all other uses of the public lands, including wildlife, cultural resources, and the protection of the area’s remarkable, wilderness-caliber public lands. In October 2008 the Interior Department finalized six land use plans for more than 11 million acres of eastern and southern Utah. Conservationists have challenged all six plans in court. The Richfield RMP is the first of the six to be litigated.
The conservation groups challenging the Richfield plan include the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association, Utah Rivers Council, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, and Rocky Mountain Wild. The groups are represented by attorneys at Earthjustice, SUWA, and other public land law specialists.