The plan, which would open about 80 percent of public lands to energy drilling and about 90 percent to off-roaders, also would allow OHVs into areas of Factory Butte previously closed for endangered-species protection and wilderness-quality lands.
Letting OHVs into those lands could end their chances for eventual wilderness designation, said Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance attorney Liz Thomas. While not yet contemplating legal action, she said, SUWA will protest the plan.
"When you've opened up more at Factory Butte, when you have routes in wilderness study areas and when you have wilderness-quality lands you're just throwing out the windows? Yeah. We have to [object]."
Factory Butte is a wide-open badlands located in Wayne County near Capitol Reef. A bit more than a year ago, the BLM closed nearly all of it to cross-country OHV travel except for a 2,600-acre "play area" known as Swing Arm City. The emergency action was taken to protect endangered Wright fishhook cactus and the threatened Winkler cactus.
Normally, such a closure would have to remain until the threat to the species is eliminated, said Laura Romin, assistant field supervisor for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Utah.
The OHV community proposed running a trail through the closed area as a way to manage traffic, Romin said. The route hasn't been mapped yet, but likely would be by the time the BLM plan receives final approval.
"The hope is it would keep the people on the trails and out of the actual [cactus] habitat," Romin said. "It's a balancing act."
No one answered calls to the Richfield BLM field office Friday afternoon. Attempts to reach OHV group representatives also were unsuccessful.
Industry representatives couldn't be reached for comment Friday. However, when the draft plan came out last fall, Kathleen Sgamma, spokeswoman for the Denver-based Independent Petroleum Association of Mountain States, warned restrictions on drilling would make development more expensive.
The Richfield field office of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management oversees 2.1 million acres spread across Sanpete, Sevier, Piute, Wayne, Garfield and Kane counties. The region includes the Henry Mountains, Parker Mountain, the Sevier, Fremont and Dirty Devil rivers, north and south Caineville mesas and borders Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks and four national forests.
While there will be no public comment period on the newly released plan, organizations, agencies and individuals who have already participated may protest through Sept. 8.
For the full plan, go to http://www.blm.gov/ut/st/en/fo/richfield/planning.html