A coalition of conservation groups represented by Earthjustice and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) appeared in federal court yesterday, seeking to overturn a lands use plan issued in 2008 by the Bureau of Land Management’s Richfield field office. As a direct result of this plan, world-renowned southern Utah wilderness landscapes, including, among other places, 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 all subjected to destructive and excessive road vehicle use.
Under the Richfield plan, BLM designated an astounding 4,300 miles of dirt roads and trails for off-road vehicle use. The BLM did so without first considering and then minimizing the impacts that allowing off-road vehicle use on such a spider web of routes would have on wildlife, cultural resources, or riparian areas. Nor did BLM consider the effects of climate change, which heightens the destructive effects of ORV use. BLM also rolled back protections on thousands of acres of lands previously designated as “areas of critical environmental concern,” and failed to consider protection for ephemeral streams, which are important for the survival of native species.
After the hearing, Heidi McIntosh, an attorney for public interest law firm Earthjustice explained that, “BLM had blinded itself to the effects of ORV use by refusing to get out on the ground and do the analysis it was required by law to do. As a result, scenic, wilderness quality landscapes between Capitol Reef and Canyonlands National Parks are getting chewed up by ORVs. We’ve asked to the judge to send this flawed decision back to the BLM with instructions to do the job right.”
The Richfield RMP is one of six land use plans—covering more than 11 million acres of eastern and southern Utah—that the Interior Department finalized in October 2008. Together, these RMPs were a last-ditch attempt by the Bush administration to leave their stamp on Utah’s landscape by prioritizing motorized recreation and energy development over resource protection. Conservationists have challenged all six plans in court. The Richfield RMP is the first of the six to be litigated.
The matter was heard yesterday in the United States District Court for the District of Utah, before Judge Dale A. Kimball.
Background information on the Richfield RMP can be found at SUWA’s website. Photographs of the proposed wilderness areas at risk in the Richfield field office are also available. 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.
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.