Judge hears arguments on Southern Utah land use

Jul 2, 2013

On Tuesday morning, a federal judge in Salt Lake City is scheduled to hear oral argument in a heated debate over public land use in Southern Utah. UPR’s Matt Jensen reports.

Conservation groups are trying to convince a judge to reverse a land use management plan created five years ago that allows off-road vehicle users access to large portions of land in south-central Utah. One such group is the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance that argues such vehicles are harming delicate landscapes near Capitol Reef National Park and the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

Factory Butte at Sunset. Copyright Tom Till.
Credit Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

"The plan designated more than 4,200 miles of dirt roads and trails for use by off-highway vehicles," said Stephen Bloch, an attorney for the organization. "That's a dense spider web of off-highway vehicle trails throughout this landscape. And when they did it, they simply didn't follow the law."

Bloch says off-road vehicles pose the greatest danger to lands in the Richfield BLM District including Factory Butte, the Henry Mountains, and the canyons of the Dirty Devil River.

"What we are seeing on the ground are real significant impacts as a result of rampant levels of off-highway vehicle use in this very fragile area," he added.

Bloch says off road vehicle trails should not be located in places where they damage watersheds, increase dust or disturb soils.

Other groups, however, say the BLM has already taken too much away from off-road vehicle users, and argue that more closures don’t reflect the best land management ideas. Brian Hawthorne is a spokesman for the Blue Ribbon Coalition - a national off-highway vehicle advocacy group. He says the group wants to find solutions but doesn’t want more road closures.

"We're all weary of the seemingly never-ending closures," said Hawthorne. "Over the last 20 years or so, thousands of miles of roads and trails have been closed in Utah alone. We would like to work with agencies and other interest groups to effectively manage off-highway vehicle recreation."

Hawthorne says his group is sensitive to concerns about natural resource use but argues better solutions can be found through a more rounded discussion outside the courtroom.

Tuesday’s hearing begins at 9 a.m. before Judge Dale Kimball at the U.S. District Courthouse in Salt Lake City.