BLM, off-highway vehicle advocates to settle longstanding litigation

Jeeps and other four-wheel drive vehicles make their way up the mountain during the 2016 "Winter 4x4 Jamboree" in the Sand Mountain OHV Area, Hurricane, Utah, Jan. 22, 2016 | Photo courtesy of Desert Roads and Trails Society, St. George News

SALT LAKE CITY – The Bureau of Land Management, off-highway vehicle advocates and a number of conservation groups have filed in U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City to settle a longstanding legal challenge to land use and travel management plans on approximately 10 million acres of BLM administered land in Utah.

If approved by the district court and subject to certain other court actions, the settlement agreement would resolve eight years of litigation brought by a consortium of conservation groups, including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society and Earthjustice, challenging land use and travel management plans for the BLM-Utah field offices in Kanab, Moab, Monticello, Price, Richfield and Vernal.

“After more than eight years of litigation, I’m pleased to see these legal challenges put aside,” BLM Utah State Director Ed Roberson said. “I look forward to focusing our attention and resources on managing Utah’s incredible public lands, unmatched opportunities for recreation and responsible energy development.”

The tentative settlement agreement was reached through more than six months of negotiations overseen by the Circuit Mediation Office for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

“This hard fought compromise agreement will focus BLM’s time and resources on the places most at risk,” legal director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance Stephen Bloch said. “We look forward to working with the OHV advocates and federal defendants to get this settlement agreement approved and in place so that BLM can turn its attention to the tasks at hand, including working with all stakeholders to minimize the impacts from off-highway vehicles on Utah’s remarkable federal public lands.”

“I’m certain we will suffer no shortage of future litigation over Utah public lands,” counsel for the OHV organizations Paul Turcke said. “However, in this unique situation we chose to participate in the settlement process to prioritize and have a meaningful role in recreation management, as it becomes increasingly prominent in the spectrum of public land uses.”

Parties to the settlement agreement include three OHV organizations, the Blue Ribbon Coalition, Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, Trails Preservation Alliance; ten conservation groups, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, National Parks Conservation Association, the Grand Canyon Trust, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Utah Rivers Council, Great Old Broads for Wilderness and Rocky Mountain Wild; and the federal defendants including the BLM and the Interior Department.

Several entities that intervened on behalf of the United States in this case have reviewed the tentative settlement and agreed not to oppose its approval by the federal district court.  These include Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, EOG Resources, XTO Energy, Crescent Point Energy US Corp. and Badlands Energy.

Notable aspects of the proposed settlement include:

  • Through a public process, BLM Utah will prepare new site-specific travel management plans in certain portions of the litigated area over the next eight years.
  • In consultation with Native American tribes, the state of Utah, and cultural experts, BLM Utah will conduct intensive, on-the-ground cultural surveys along routes in those portions of the litigated area for which BLM Utah will prepare new travel management plans that have a high probability of containing cultural and historic resources. Approaching cultural surveys this way ensures that BLM can focus its limited funds on the artifacts and resources most at risk.
  • BLM Utah will update its 2011 Utah Air Resource Management Strategy and 2013 photochemical modeling analysis to ensure that the air quality impacts of certain oil and gas activity within the Uinta Basin are adequately studied as future development is approved.
  • Conservation group plaintiffs will dismiss their remaining claims against the six land use and travel management plans and the November 2014 oil and gas lease sale.

The settlement is subject to final approval by the U.S. District Court in Salt Lake City and certain other court actions agreed to by the parties.

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2 Comments

  • Robert January 15, 2017 at 6:15 pm

    Win some, lose some, I think the OHV community won on this one.

  • outsider_100@hotmail.com January 16, 2017 at 8:50 am

    The St. George BLM Field office is not on the list of affected areas. Perhaps the compromise achieved here will be a good model for the issues we are dealing with in Washington County.
    Many of us support UPLA’s efforts to preserve access……

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