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The Richfield plan

Published December 27, 2012 6:28 pm

BLM plans threaten Utah land
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

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.