By MARIA DEL MORAL
The Bureau of Land Management has been sued for controlling off-road vehicles that are damaging public lands.
A coalition of eight regional and national conservation groups joined together to force the BLM to improve regulation of ORVs in public lands and comply with existing laws in a lawsuit filed Oct. 27, according to a news release from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
ORV use is expected to increase to 118 million by 2020. This is a 5.3 million increase from 1979. As ORVs increase, so will environmental problems, said Lawson LeGate, Sierra Club senior representative. They are damaging to the land because they erode soil, impede plant growth and disrupt animals.
“The lawsuit is seeking to force the agency (BLM) to follow through with existing laws and regulations,” said Steve Bloch, staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. “ORVs cause significant damage when they are not properly managed.”
According to the executive order signed by President Nixon in 1972, federal agencies, like the BLM are to designate specific areas on public land where ORVs may or may not be allowed. This is to minimize damage to soil, streams, vegetation and wildlife habitats.
However, a study done by the SUWA reported that BLM has not implemented Executive orders. According to the SUWA’s Web site, the BLM hasn’t monitored ORV use and isn’t doing anything to reduce the damages caused by them.
In response to the filed accusations, the BLM said it knows the agency needs improvements, but is constrained by financial resources, said Don Banks, a spokesperson for the BLM.
Banks said the BLM has one law enforcement ranger for every 2 million acres, which prevents them from enforcing laws effectively.
“We could use more financial resources. This is an agency that has not received the appropriation to match the responsibilities it has,” Banks said.
The key to solving public land abuse is a collaboration between ORV users and several environmental agencies because the problem is not a single agency problem, Banks said.
“This is a situation we all have to deals with if we want to solve the problem. In order to perpetuate a recreational experience, we all need to join in finding a solution,” he said.
Some ORV users feel they are being misrepresented by the lawsuit which may close roads to riders, said Brian Hawthorne, an ORV rider and executive director for the Utah Shared Access Alliance.
“A lot of off-road vehicle users are upset because we feel that the areas where we can go ride are being diminished more and more. We have already lost 9.3 millions acres with the changes recommended in the lawsuit,” Hawthorne said.
He said the SUWA picked the most damaged areas to portray it as a state-wide problem.
Plaintiffs in the lawsuit include the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Wilderness Society, Sierra club, American Lands Alliance, Utah Council of Trout Unlimited, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Friends of the Abajos and Wildlands Center for Preventing Roads.
Results from a poll by Dan Jones and Associates reported that most Utahns favor limiting ORV usage in public lands. More than 68 percent of Utahns believe that ORVs damage public lands.