The six regional Bureau of Land Management plans for the multiple use of federal lands in Utah are a holdover from the Bush administration, which called for little protection and nearly unlimited all-terrain-vehicle use.
The Richfield management plan is an off-roader's dream: 2 million acres crisscrossed by a 4,277-mile "spider web" of routes a mostly unrestricted ATV playground.
That's why a ruling last week by U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball is an important righting of a wrong done five years ago. Kimball ruled the BLM plan failed to acknowledge and minimize the impacts of motorized use on streams, native plants and wildlife. It also did not provide an inventory of fragile archaeological sites as required by federal law and failed in protecting ancient American-Indian sites and artifacts and other cultural and historical resources.
While many ATV users are responsible stewards of the land and cultural sites, far too many others are not. Vandalism and disregard for the fragility of the sites and the land itself has caused erosion, disturbed the migratory habits and habitat of wildlife and dirtied creeks and streams.
The Richfield plan covers BLM-managed federal lands in Sevier, Garfield, Wayne and Piute counties. Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks border the area on the south, encompassing the Henry Mountains, Factory Butte, the Dirty Devil River and Muddy Creek, all well-known to outdoor recreationists and conservationists for their unique beauty and cultural treasures.
The Richfield plan, which opened up the vast majority of the landscape to drilling and ATV use, gave short shrift to the BLM's mandated mission of managing and conserving public lands. In the waning months of the Bush era, as conservatives in Washington and elsewhere adopted a "drill, baby, drill" mantra, the BLM was instructed to give preference to drilling and motorized-vehicle use as it developed regional plans.
The Richfield plan was the regrettable result.
Outdoor enthusiasts who live in or visit Utah are a huge driver of the state's economy. Quiet recreation mountain biking, hiking, river rafting, backpacking as well as seasonal hunting and fishing pump nearly $1 billion into Utah each year. ATVers should also have room to ride, but on fewer trails that can be monitored to prevent abuse of the land.
Once areas suited for quiet recreation are damaged or ruined by irresponsible ATV users, the potential for continued revenue and memorable recreation experiences is lost forever.