The Bureau of Land Management develops resource management plans (RMPs) to guide the agency in managing public lands.
“The Congress declares that it is the policy of the United States that . . . (8) the public lands be managed in a manner that will protect the quality of scientific, scenic, historical, ecological, environmental, air and atmospheric, water resources, and archaeological values . . .”
Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) § 1701(a)(8).
Developing and implementing a plan is a complicated task that requires striking a balance between many competing land uses. The BLM must also protect valuable land resources for the future by controlling depleting uses.
To consider these competing interests, the BLM publishes a notice of intent to develop an RMP in the Federal Register, local media, and other sources. The notice allows for a 30-day public review and comment period. In addition to the notice, the BLM solicits input through mailings, newspaper articles, public meetings, and workshops. It gathers, screens, and evaluates ideas from public, private, and internal sources.
The Utah BLM has gone through the extensive and lengthy process of developing and finalizing RMPs for Kanab Field Office (October 2008), Moab Field Office (October 2008), Monticello Field Office (November 2008), Price Field Office (October 2008), Richfield Field Office (October 2008), and Vernal Field Office (October 2008). Shortly after the release of the RMPs, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other environmental organizations filed a lawsuit challenging them.
Utah RMP Litigation (SUWA v. Burke)
|December 2008||The environmental organizations file SUWA v. Burke challenging Moab, Price, and Vernal RMPs in federal district court for the District of Columbia.|
|January 2009||The State of Utah and Carbon County file a motion to intervene in the case as defendants in support of the BLM and the RMPs. Environmental organizations oppose intervention. After briefing, the court grants intervention.|
|March 2009||The State files a motion to transfer the case from the federal district court in D.C. to Utah federal court.|
|November 2010||The same environmental organizations sue the BLM over Monticello, Kanab, and Richfield RMPs and Travel Plans in federal district court for the District of Columbia. Several other affected Utah counties join the lawsuit.|
|March 2012||Both cases are transferred to the federal court in Utah.|
|June 2012||Environmental organizations, as plaintiffs, ask the court for an order to argue Richfield RMP first. (One RMP is chosen to manage this large litigation.) Judge Dale A. Kimball orders the parties to begin briefing and arguing the Richfield RMP and Travel Plan.|
|November 2013||Judge Kimball issues a decision on the Richfield RMP and Travel Plan.|
|May 2014||Judge Kimball issues a decision ordering the BLM to conduct analysis of the routes in the Richfield RMP.|
Judge Kimball’s Ruling on Richfield RMP
After briefing and oral argument, the court issued a decision ruling partially in favor of the environmental groups and partially in favor of the BLM, the State, and other intervenors.
Decisions favorable to the BLM:
- The National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) requires the BLM to take a “hard look” at the environmental impacts of OHVs. The BLM has complied with this requirement.
- The BLM sufficiently considered the impacts of the OHVs in the context of climate change.
- The BLM complied with FLPMA with respect to air quality standards.
- The BLM generally complied with prioritizing Areas of Critical Environmental Concern (“ACECs”) (except for the proposed Henry Mountains ACEC).
- The BLM generally complied with the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) in implementing eligibility criteria and designating suitable rivers (except for Happy Canyon and Buck and Pasture Canyons spring areas).
Decisions favorable to the environmental groups:
- The BLM has established OHV minimization criteria that guide its route/road authorizations in the context of minimizing the impacts on soils, vegetation, wildlife, air, water, and cultural resources. The BLM did not apply the minimization criteria in its preparation of the Travel Plan.
- The BLM conducted Class I surveys in the Richfield RMP area to evaluate the impact of OHV routes on archeological sites. The national Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) requires BLM to conduct Class III (intensive on the ground) surveys to collect information on potential archeological sites on all OHV routes in the limited use area. Judge Kimball ruled that the BLM must conduct Class III surveys.
Current Litigation Status
Judge Kimball issued a Memorandum Decision and Order on May 22, 2015 stating the proper remedy for the deficiencies in the Richfield Resource Management Plan. The deficient plan will be vacated, and the rules that were in place prior to enactment of the deficient plan will we restored. BLM will have a three years to inventory cultural resources and study impacts to them. At the end of the three year period, BLM will release a new record of decision. Additionally, BLM has six months to issue a decision on whether to designate the Henry Mountains as an area of critical environmental concern and a year to designate Happy, Buck, and Pasture Canyons as wild and scenic rivers.