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Off-roaders sue BLM over San Rafael Swell travel restrictions
By Patty Henetz
The Salt Lake Tribune

An alliance of off-highway vehicle enthusiasts has sued the Bureau of Land Management, seeking to overturn restrictions on motorized travel in the San Rafael Swell.
The lawsuit filed in federal court Wednesday claims the BLM violated its own rules when it created the 2003 San Rafael Swell Route Designation Plan.
"The plan closed 468 miles of roads. It was a major closure," said plaintiff Rainer Huck, an outspoken advocate for motorized access in the backcountry. "The majority of these closures we feel were irrational."
But Heidi McIntosh, conservation director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, said the BLM plan was long overdue and didn't give wilderness advocates all they wanted, either. Promising her organization would intervene, McIntosh said the lawsuit "is just another indication that some of these off-road vehicle groups can't stomach any limitations [on access] no matter how damaging they are."
Joining Huck in the action against the BLM are the Southeastern Utah OHV Club and seven individuals Huck described as "friends of the San Rafael." The lawsuit names as defendants BLM Price Field Office Manager Patrick Gubbins, state BLM Director Sally Wisely, Secretary of the Interior Gale Norton, BLM Director Kathleen Clarke and the BLM.
The San Rafael Swell's red sandstone reefs, white salt domes, slot canyons and washes stretch across 1 million acres in east-central Utah.
Off-highway vehicle riders for the past 30 years have had unlimited access to more than 1,000 miles of dirt roads and double tracks from Buckhorn Wash to Temple Mountain. The management plan leaves 667 miles of road open to motorized use.
As the number of OHV users has increased, so has the number of hikers and bikers who objected to environmental degradation. But conflicts over access were only part of the reason the roads were closed, said Floyd Johnson, assistant manager of the BLM's Price field office.
"Some of them were closed because they were duplicate routes to the same area. Some seemed to go nowhere," he said.
Other roads were closed because of threats to sensitive and endangered species and to cultural resources, including historic structures and ancient rock art.
Also closed were roads that could affect the Green River's potential for wild and scenic river designation, he said.
A SUWA lawsuit in 1999 spurred the completion of the route plan - long overdue, since it was an executive order during the Nixon administration that required BLM districts throughout the nation do the work, McIntosh said.
The BLM's Price District is the first to produce such a plan in Utah.
The entire process took 12 years and incorporated more than 1,200 public comments, Johnson said.
While the Emery County Sheriff's Office has issued a few citations for flagrant disregard of the road closures, OHV users generally are complying with the rules, Johnson said.
Huck predicted the lawsuit would get a fair hearing in federal court.
"Environmentalists are always claiming we want access everywhere," he said. "We don't want to go out and make new roads and trails. We just want to have access to what has existed for generations."
But McIntosh said that OHV users in Utah endure far less regulation than in other states.
"I'm not sure what they're complaining about, exactly," she said. "Many more miles of trail were left open than areas were closed." :rolleyes:

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