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Utah Judge Rejects Bush-Era BLM Public Lands Plan

A district court judge in Utah Monday overturned a Bush-era resource management plan (RMP) that opened more than 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails in part of the state to off-road vehicles.

The RMP by the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Richfield, UT, office was challenged by a coalition of conservation groups led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and Earthjustice, which argued that the BLM plan threatened well-known Southern Utah wilderness landscapes like the Dirty Devil Canyon complex (including Butch Cassidy's infamous hideout, Robber's Roost), the Henry Mountains (the last mountain range to be mapped in the Lower 48 states), and Factory Butte.

The SUWA and Earthjustice were joined by five other groups in their legal challenge to the plan that was adopted in 2008 just before former President George W. Bush left office. The Richfield plan covers 2.1 million acres and is just one of six land use plans—covering more than 11 million acres of eastern and southern Utah—that that were finalized in October 2008 and have since been challenged.

District Judge Dale Kimball reversed BLM's off-road vehicle (ORV) trail designations because BLM failed to minimize the potentially destructive impacts of ORV use on streams, native plants, wildlife soils and irreplaceable cultural sites and artifacts. He further directed the agency to complete intensive, on-the-ground surveys for historic and cultural resources before authorizing ORV use.

"This landmark decision is a resounding rejection of the BLM's mismanagement of Utah's...public lands," said Stephen Bloch, legal director for SUWA. "The Richfield RMP wrongly prioritized ORV use over all other uses of the public lands and neglected streams and special places worth of protection. The court didn't mince words in its ruling that this violated federal [laws].”

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