Utah – Moab and the San Rafael Swell


Will environmentalist lawsuits close Utah’s icon OHV areas such as Moab and the San Rafael Swell?

san_rafael_swell_03_800x535Any reasonable person would assume that even Utah’s radical anti-recreation groups would be happy with the new Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans in Utah. After all, those plans closed nearly half of the existing roads and trails and imposed severe restrictions on all recreational uses, including camping, mountain biking and group rides.

Of course, that assumption would be incorrect. Utah’s environmentalists are not reasonable. No less than eleven Wilderness activist groups, led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) is demanding the federal courts gut the BLM’s new plans, proving once again that no amount of closures is enough for these radicals.

Before the ink was dry on new BLM management plan, SUWA demands more closures from the federal courts

On March 19, 2009, a coalition of eleven Wilderness activist groups1 led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) amended a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia. The lawsuit was originally filed on December 17, 2008, and challenged the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) offering of 77 oil and gas leases in three Utah Resource Areas.   (show more)

In January 2009, SUWA obtained a temporary restraining order against the challenged lease sales, effectively killing those projects. Far from being satisfied with their “victory,” SUWA switched targets and added claims against the entirety of BLM’s Moab, Price and Vernal Resource Management Plans (RMPs) and travel plans..

The BRC legal team worked quickly and in April, 2009 successfully moved to intervene in the case on behalf of its members and partner organizations.  Later, SUWA filed a separate suit bringing similar challenges to the Richfield, Monticello and Kanab Field Office RMPs and travel plans, threatening some of the trails in the iconic Paiute ATV Trail System and the popular “Cainville” or “Hanksville” hill-climb areas.  The two cases were consolidated in the U.S. District of Columbia.

SUWA claims that travel plans violate the law by failing to adequately analyze environmental effects of vehicle use, even though the BLM’s new plans closed nearly half of the existing roads and trails. These are in addition to SUWA’s claims that the BLM allows too much oil and gas leasing and not enough Wilderness Study Areas, Areas of Critical Environmental Concern and Wild and Scenic Rivers.

Why this is important to you:

The roads and trails at stake are some of the most popular in the world. Moab, Utah is often called the “Mecca of Four Wheeling” and home to the annual Easter Jeep Safari hosted by Utah’s Red Rock 4-Wheelers . The San Rafael Swell includes routes that SUWA previously attempted to close via a lawsuit filed in 1999. Thanks to quick intervention by BRC and the Utah Shared Access Alliance, SUWA suffered a rare 9-0 defeat at the U.S. Supreme Court.

We will give SUWA credit for their tenacity. Years after their stunning failure in the Supreme Court, they are at it again.  SUWA has incorporated two relatively new claims in the latest lawsuit, alleging the BLM failed to include “quantitative air quality modeling for ozone and other criteria pollutants regulated under the Clean Air Act.” They say the BLM did not “model air emissions” from vehicle use. SUWA is also alleging the BLM failed to analyze the impacts of oil and gas development and vehicle use on climate change. SUWA claims these activities result in the release of greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change.

If successful, the precedent could result in massive closures across BLM managed lands nationwide.

No word on whether SUWA will challenge visitors from throughout our and other countries who collectively fly millions of miles annually to visit Utah’s National Parks. I imagine emissions from ATVs and dirt bikes would pale in comparison to the greenhouse gas emissions from the steady stream of jets through the hubs and regional airports surrounding Utah’s famed backcountry.

These cases languished for some time in the U.S. District of Columbia. In March, 2012 the cases were transferred to the U.S. District of Utah. As expected, the cases have moved expeditiously upon return to the District of Utah. The Court, upon consultation with the parties, has entered a case management order, under which the first RMP to be considered will be the Richfield Office RMP. The administrative record for that case has been produced, and is open to objection or motions to supplement until October 25, 2012. SUWA et al. will file their opening brief 60 days after any record issues are resolved and the record is finalized. This likely means that briefing will occur on the merits in the winter/spring of 2013. (show less)

Current Status

This case involves six (6) RMPs, covering nearly all BLM lands in the State of Utah.  These cases were brought by SUWA and other anti-access groups, and BRC leads pro-access intervenors who have entered the case as full parties alongside the State of Utah, SITLA, Utah Counties, and energy producers to help defend the BLM plans.  The earliest case was filed way back in 2008, and started in the U.S. District of Columbia.

The cases are now in the District of Utah, where the Court first considered the Richfield RMP. In November, 2013, the Court ruled for Defendants/Intervenors on many claims, but for SUWA/Plaintiffs on several key claims.  The parties have filed an initial round of briefs to address remedy, but obtained a stay of proceedings in order to conduct discovery and depose one of SUWA’s “expert” witnesses.  The final round of remedy briefs are set to be filed in October, 2014.  The schedule for addressing the remains RMPs has not yet been established.


Lawsuits threaten IMMEDIATE CLOSURE of OHV trails!
Please help us defend trails against aggressive environmentalist attack.