In 2008, the Bureau of Land Management issued Resource Management Plans that included travel management planning for 13 areas across the state of Utah. The affected planning areas cover over 6 million acres of BLM land in Utah and include some of Utah’s most spectacular areas for off-road adventure. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance sued the BLM, and In January of 2017, the Department of the Interior entered into a settlement agreement with SUWA to resolve their complaints with the plans. As a result, the BLM had to begin an expensive, time-consuming process to go through the planning process again – this after being required to pay SUWA $400,000 in attorney’s fees.
BlueRibbon Coalition is a defendant intervenor in the settlement, and we have been closely monitoring the outcome of the settlement.
The first Travel Management Plan to be considered and released to the public was the plan for the San Rafael Desert. In August, the BLM released the final decision for this plan, and they adopted an alternative that officially recognized 765 miles of roads open for OHV use instead of the 300 miles. SUWA was not happy with the result:
It isn’t difficult to understand why they would oppose this final plan. In 2017, US taxpayers paid SUWA $400,000 in legal fees because they weren’t happy with a travel management area that looked like this:
This is a map of the plan released in August:
This was an acceptable plan for those of us who support access to public land. We are aware that there a a few routes that were closed unnecessarily, and we learned some strategies we can adopt in the remaining 12 areas that will be analyzed.
To no one’s surprise, we have heard that SUWA is appealing the decision. We also expect the draft plan for the San Rafael Swell to be released any day now. We will also have to go through this process for the following areas:
- Henry Mountains and Fremont Gorge
- Dinosaur (North)
- Book Cliffs (Vernal FO)
- Nine Mile Canyon (Vernal FO)
- Nine Mile Canyon (Price FO)
- Indian Creek
- Book Cliffs (Moab FO)
- Labyrinth/Gemini Bridges
- Dolores River
- Trail Canyon
SUWA has regularly been surveying these areas to scheme ways to shut down access to public land, and as we can see with the frivolous appeal of the San Rafael Desert decision, they will likely try to squeeze every penny they can from the Equal Access to Justice Act.
All of this means we have a lot of work to do. We won’t be surprised if this process takes ten years to be fully completed if it follows the current pace. However, as you can see from the list above, this will impact your favorite riding areas.
This is why we created the 10,000+ project. This travel management settlement will impact of 6 million acres of public land. Our back of the napkin calculations suggest that this will impact over 10,000 miles of roads and trails. The purpose of the 10,000+ project is to ensure that at the end of this process we have protected access to over 10,000 miles of roads and trails. It’s that simple. We don’t want to give up a single inch.
But, we cannot succeed without support from everyone who believes that the public should be able access and enjoy public lands. It is completely backwards and arguably corrupt that SUWA’s efforts to shut down access to public lands are subsidized with $400,000 in taxpayer funds. But, this is the fight we are in.
The best way that you can directly help the 10,000+ Project is to donate to our Travel Management Plan Legal Fund. All donations made to the fund will be held in reserve to challenge appeals by SUWA, monitor the progress of the BLM planning, and execute other strategies we develop to ensure that by the time this is over we have well over 10,000 miles of trails that are inventoried, analyzed, and open to the public to explore.
We also invite you to become a member of BlueRibbon Coalition. SUWA was founded in 1983, and we have been fighting them and their anti-access allies since 1987. We have been fighting and wining legal battles for public access for decades. With this track record, public land agencies know we mean serious business. Our effectiveness only increases when we represent larger numbers of you. You can learn more about the benefits of membership here.
Finally, with over 10,000 miles of roads and trails to keep track of, we need your help. Sign up to be part of the 10,000+ project, so we can keep you updated and learn more about the local knowledge you might have of any of the riding areas that are part of this settlement. Together we can protect our access to these public lands for years to come.