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Off-Roaders' Dream or Environmental Nightmare?

PHOTO: Factory Butte is one of many geographic points of interest in the 2.1 million acres covered by the Richfield Resource Management Plan. Courtesy of BLM.
PHOTO: Factory Butte is one of many geographic points of interest in the 2.1 million acres covered by the Richfield Resource Management Plan. Courtesy of BLM.
July 1, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY - Off-highway vehicle (OHV) use on public land is the issue this week in a Salt Lake courtroom. On Tuesday, the first of six Resource Management Plans by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) will come under fire from conservation groups. It is a battle that started in 2008, when they first challenged the Richfield Resource Management Plan (RMP) for south central Utah.

Attorney Steve Bloch with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), said his group believes the plan puts too much emphasis on off-roading and oil and gas development in areas that deserve greater protection.

"What we're seeking at this hearing on Tuesday is to bring some balance back to how the public lands are managed," Bloch said. "It's our position that designating more than 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails, in this office alone, is not a balanced decision."

Supporters of keeping the Richfield RMP as it is have pointed out that it resulted from six years of input and is a compromise plan, so none of the parties involved got exactly what they wanted. The conservation groups' challenge has languished in Washington, D.C., for the past few years until being reassigned to the federal district court in Salt Lake City, where oral arguments will be heard on Tuesday.

According to Bloch, the BLM used existing county road and trail maps to make its OHV travel plans, without doing sufficient field work to follow up. He said his group and other challengers are not against off-roading in general, but they warn it should not be allowed in sensitive areas.

"There are roads and trails that should be closed to protect a whole host of resources," Bloch explained. "And even if those are closed, there will be hundreds - if not thousands - of miles of roads and trails still available in this part of the state and, surely, statewide."

He added that none of the six RMPs discuss the combined effects of off-roading and climate change, from dust storms to stream degradation. Instead, they state that other decisions will be made later. The Richfield plan covers an area of roughly 2 million acres of public land across five Utah counties.

More information is available on the BLM Richfield RMP website, www.blm.gov. Information about the SUWA protest is at http://action.suwa.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - UT