SALT LAKE CITY, UT (May 4, 2017) -- A settlement involving BLM Utah travel management has been favorably received by the courts, and is poised on final approval. Recall that a proposed settlement agreement was filed in U.S. District Court in Utah on January 13, 2017, affecting roughly ten million acres of lands in six BLM Utah field offices.
Following months of negotiations, the proposed agreement was signed by the BLM, preservationist plaintiffs led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and OHV advocacy organizations the BlueRibbon Coalition/Sharetrails.org, Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition, and Trails Preservation Alliance. Two groups of energy companies and the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA) did not sign the settlement but do not object to it, while San Juan/Kane Counties, and the State of Utah along with six other counties, filed written objections and urged the court to reject the settlement.
The settlement was closely scrutinized but apparently passed muster with incoming agency leadership, who along with the other settling parties filed final legal documents on April 21st responding to the objections and expressing ongoing support of the agreement. The district court declined to hear argument and issued an order on April 26th finding the objectors “have not presented any legal basis for blocking the settlement” and concluding the proposed settlement “is a fair and lawful resolution of years of litigation.” Part of an earlier ruling was on appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which ruled on May 1st to send the case back so the district court can approve the settlement.
“We believe we have wisely navigated these murky waters,” said Paul Turcke, attorney for the OHV groups. “It is very difficult to prevent primary parties from settling their lawsuit, and this case uniquely vectored between exhausting litigation and a timely electoral twist that allowed us to board the settlement vessel while steering its course in a meaningful way,” Turcke noted.
“The settlement does not close any routes and only outlines a process for BLM planning,” observed Glen Zumwalt, a member of the OHV groups’ negotiating team. “The planning areas and timelines are acceptable, as parties we have a seat at the table if implementation issues arise, and the agreement vacates adverse decisions in the Richfield Office. Without our involvement, this agreement would have been much worse for the OHV community,” Zumwalt concluded. Additional analysis of the settlement terms can be viewed in the OHV groups’ January 13 statement.
The fate of access to these treasured lands will soon lie again in the hands of BLM, informed by input from engaged publics and local governments. It is incumbent on those seeking continuing vehicle access to vigorously participate.
The BlueRibbon Coalition/Sharetrails.org is a national non-profit organization that champions responsible recreation and encourages individual environmental stewardship. With members in all 50 states, BRC is focused on building enthusiast involvement with organizational efforts through membership, outreach, education, and collaboration among recreationists. http://sharetrails.org
COHVCO is a nonprofit organization whose member enthusiasts, organizations and businesses collectively comprise over 200,000 Coloradoans and regular visitors to Colorado and other western states who contribute millions of dollars and thousands of hours annually to off-highway vehicle recreation through registration fees, retail expenditure, project participation and related support. www.cohvco.org
The Trails Preservation Alliance is a nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting the sport of motorized trail riding, educating all user groups and the public on the value of sharing public lands for multiuse recreation, while protecting public lands for future generations. www.coloradotpa.org