Judge Upholds Off-Road Rules in Southern Utah

Judge Upholds Off-Road Rules in Southern Utah

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A federal judge ruled the U.S. Bureau of Land Management can close 250,000 acres of public land near Moab to off-road vehicles, including the popular Factory Butte area.

U.S. District Judge Bruce Jenkins said the BLM had the power to prevent or reduce environmental damage.

Jenkins on Wednesday threw out a lawsuit from the Utah Shared Access Alliance, which said the BLM acted in 2001 without taking public comment or holding hearings.

The alliance challenged BLM restrictions on popular motor trails, off-road travel, bicycling and dispersed camping in areas near Moab and Canyonlands National Park. The off-limits areas include Factory Butte, Poison Spider Mesa, Gemini Bridges Trail and other BLM lands in Box Elder, San Juan and Emery counties.

"This ruling makes clear that the federal government can and should take reasonable measures to bring some balance to the landscape by preventing off-road vehicles from tearing apart our public lands," Earthjustice attorney Keith Bauerle said.

The lawsuit at least forced BLM to develop or update travel guidelines that accommodate some off-road travel, USA-ALL director Brian Hawthorne said.

The BLM, under pressure from conservation groups, has issued a series of emergency orders since the 1990s closing hundreds of thousands of acres to vehicle use. But in many areas, it has clear policy or enforcement strategy. Vehicles still are allowed on about 90 percent of the 22 million acres of BLM-managed land in Utah.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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