From The Salt Lake Tribune:
The Richfield plan
BLM plans threaten Utah land
First Published Dec 27 2012 06:28 pm • Last Updated Dec 27 2012 06:28 pm
George W. Bush left the White House nearly four years ago. There is no reason why the president who was elected — twice — to replace him should have his Bureau of Land Management waste everyone’s time and money by continuing to defend a set of land-use plans that threaten large swaths of Utah with destructive forms of development and recreation.
A consortium of environmental advocacy groups is pursuing a lawsuit against the BLM over its plans for the future use of six different sections of Utah, covering some 11 million acres. The first to come before the court — in hopes that it can be resolved in a way that guides the other five cases — is the one challenging planned uses for 2 million acres in south-central Utah known as the Richfield area.
Perhaps because the map of the area managed out of the BLM’s Richfield office bears some resemblance to the shape of the state of Texas, the Bush-era BLM managers seemed to see no reason why some 80 percent of the land should not be left open to energy development, while some 90 percent of the area would be open to motorized off-highway vehicle recreation.
The environmental groups, led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, make a strong case that the Richfield plan reflects very little understanding either of the land it is supposed to be managing or of the federal laws, rules and executive orders that were supposed to guide the planning process. By leaving so much of the area open to energy development, and by authorizing what the lawsuit describes as a “spider web” of OHV routes that, added up, would stretch from Atlanta to Anchorage, the agency has clearly failed to do its job.
As the lawsuit argues, there seems no reason to believe that the BLM managers took proper account of the need to preserve land drained by the Dirty Devil River system, to respect the fragile soils and threatened rivers and streams in the area that covers much of Sanpete, Sevier, Piute, Wayne and Garfield counties.
The agency paid little heed to policies going back to at least the Nixon administration, policies that demand minimal damage from OHVs, or to the direction from Congress to locate and recommend for designation waterways that would qualify for protection under the Wild and Scenic Rivers program.
It has ignored its own findings that much of the land harbors endangered species or bears several characteristics that could qualify it for wilderness status.
The rules the environmental groups are challenging were clearly a last-ditch attempt by the Bush administration to leave lands unprotected. The Obama administration should withdraw these hurtful land-use plans and set about doing them correctly.
From The Salt Lake Tribune:
SOUTHERN UTAH WILDERNESS ALLIANCE * EARTHJUSTICE
Conservationists File Opening Brief in Longstanding Challenge to Bush-Era BLM Land Use Plans
Richfield resource management plan designated over 4,200 miles of route for ORVs; short-changed iconic western landscapes including Dirty Devil, Muddy Creek, and Factory Butte
Stephen Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 801.428.3981
Heidi McIntosh, Earthjustice, 801.541.5833 (cell)
December 21, 2012 (Salt Lake City): 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 90% 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.
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.
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 SUWA, Earthjustice, and other land law specialists.
Yesterday, a coalition of conservation organizations — the Sierra Club, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Natural Resources Defense Council, Grand Canyon Trust, and Great Old Broads for Wilderness — sent a letter to Utah Governor Gary Herbert urging him to “support the creation of a transparent, fair, public process” to discuss a potential Greater Canyonlands National Monument in Southeastern Utah.
The letter was cc’d to the entire Utah congressional delegation, as well as Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley.
The conservation letter comes in response to a November 14, 2012 letter to President Obama from Utah delegation members Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, and Reps. Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, which called for a public process to discuss the future of Greater Canyonlands.
In the letter to Governor Herbert, leaders of the conservation community write:
“We support the call for executive action to protect Greater Canyonlands. And like those members of the Utah delegation, we also support the creation of a transparent, fair, public process to achieve this. Such a process is something your office should encourage.
“An open process must include public hearings along the Wasatch Front and in communities closest to Greater Canyonlands and must also welcome input from all Americans, whose stake in this landscape is equal to that of Utahns. It must invite meaningful input from the general public and all stakeholders, including conservationists, scientists, tribal interests, recreationists and the business and development community. It must include an experienced, credible and neutral facilitator.”
The letter concludes: “We stand ready to work with you and we will follow up this letter with a request to meet with you personally to begin creating such a process to discuss the future of Greater Canyonlands.”
The Greater Canyonlands area is a landscape of plateaus, stunning geologic formations, 10,000 year old archeological sites, and unmatched natural beauty — including iconic Utah landmarks such as Labyrinth Canyon, Indian Creek, White Canyon, Fiddler Butte, Robbers Roost, Lockhart Basin and the Dirty Devil River. The area encompasses 1.4 million acres of Bureau of Land Management (“BLM”) land surrounding Canyonlands National Park. In November, more than 100 outdoor recreation businesses urged President Obama to protect the area as a national monument.
Click here to read the full text of the letter to Governor Herbert.