ST. GEORGE — The Utah Public Lands Alliance donated nearly $70,000 to the BlueRibbon Coalition to fund its legal challenge of the Moab Bureau of Land Management’s travel management plan, which closed hundreds of miles of dirt roads to off-road vehicles.

Loren Campbell presents the BlueRibbon Coalition with a check worth nearly $70,000 in St. George, Utah, Dec. 7, 2023 | Photo courtesy of the Utah Public Lands Alliance, St. George News

The donation was presented during the alliance’s board meeting in St. George on Dec. 7, with alliance President Loren Campbell and BlueRibbon Executive Director Ben Burr in attendance to commemorate the occasion.

The check was the first installment, with about $30,000 left to go, Campbell told St. George News.

The nonprofit committed to matching a $50,000 donation, with $100,000 total going to BlueRibbon’s Legal Defense Fund to further its mission to “ensure that public lands remain accessible for a wide range of recreational activities.”

Burr said in a news release that BlueRibbon is grateful for the alliance’s dedication.

“This donation is one of the largest single donations ever received by BlueRibbon and will help us in our legal fight to continue advocating for the responsible use of public lands,” he said. “The support from UPLA and their broad coalition of donors is instrumental in our efforts to protect these lands for everyone.”

Vehicles navigate the Labyrinth Canyon/Gemini Bridges travel management area near Moab, Utah, April 20, 2019 | Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

The alliance began fundraising after the BLM announced the Labyrinth Canyon and Gemini Bridges travel management plan for off-highway vehicle use in late September. The plan is now in effect and covers approximately 812 miles of routes over about 300,000 acres of public land in Grand County.

According to the bureau, the plan will provide “predictability and clarity for users, minimizes user conflicts and damage to natural and cultural resources, meets access needs, increases public safety, and addresses law enforcement issues within the area.”

The plan is one of 11 that will be completed by 2025 as part of the BLM’s 2017 court-supervised settlement agreement between the bureau, conservation organizations and off-road vehicle groups following a lawsuit filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, according to the nonprofit’s website.

Upcoming management plans include the Trail Canyon, encompassing public lands east of Zion National Park, including Orderville Canyon, North Fork Virgin River, Canaan Mountain, Moquith Mountain and Parunuweap Canyon; and Paunsaugunt, comprised of 200,000 acres of BLM-managed lands, such as the Upper Kanab Creek and Vermillion Cliffs proposed wilderness areas near the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park, according to the wilderness alliance.

The Green River flows through the Labyrinth Canyon/Gemini Bridges travel management area near Moab, Utah, Jan. 19, 2007 | Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

“Prior to designating routes as open to (off-road vehicles), the BLM must expressly consider impacts to ‘lands with wilderness character,’ sensitive natural resources, and cultural resources,” the wilderness alliance writes. “The agency must also minimize impacts to those resources.”

Following the decision, BlueRibbon and the State of Utah filed an appeal, challenging the plan to prevent the closure of approximately 317 miles of trails and roads north of Canyonlands National Park, according to the Utah Department of Natural Resources.

BlueRibbon requested a “stay,” leaving the roads and trails open as a decision is made.

“(The) BLM decided that they were going to deny the stay, and they’ll still be reviewing the appeal,” Campbell explained. “So what that means is now the roads are officially closed until the next action is taken.”

Gov. Spencer Cox said that plan is “completely unacceptable.”

“These are historic routes that have been used by the public for generations, and we won’t tolerate this kind of blatant federal overreach,” he said.

The wilderness alliance said in a statement that the plan protects Labyrinth Canyon and other nearby public lands, including cultural sites and riparian habitat, balancing motorized and nonmotorized recreation. Over 800 miles of trails and roads will remain open for off-highway vehicles.

The Green River flows through the Labyrinth Canyon/Gemini Bridges travel management area near Moab, Utah, Feb. 4, 2015 | Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Land Management, St. George News

Wilderness alliance staff attorney Laura Peterson said she was “disappointed but not surprised” by the challenges.

“Unfortunately, there are some who will not be satisfied unless every inch of Utah’s public lands are blanketed with off-road vehicle routes, regardless of the damage these vehicles cause,” she said.

“The BLM’s plan takes a thoughtful approach to managing recreation in this popular area, one that will protect the stunning Labyrinth Canyon river corridor and critically important riparian ecosystem while leaving thousands of miles of dirt roads and trails open to motorized use in the greater Moab area,” Peterson said. “SUWA is confident the plan will withstand scrutiny and intends to intervene to defend BLM’s decision.”

Over 150 individuals and organizations contributed to BlueRibbon’s fund. Campbell said that one of the public lands alliance’s goals was to show widespread support for BlueRibbon’s efforts.

“Utah Public Lands Alliance believes that anybody that uses land responsibly should be allowed to use that land,” he said. “And if they’re behaving irresponsibly, then action needs to be taken against it. But shutting off land to responsible users is just not fair. Many of these roads and trails have been maintained by user groups for years. We’ve gone out and done the labor to keep the trails open.”

People explore the Sand Mountain Off-Highway Vehicle Area in this file photo, Hurricane, Utah, March 12, 2023 | Photo by Alysha Lundgren, St. George News

Earlier this year, the Utah Public Lands Alliance, with a group of nearly 200 volunteers, worked on trails, installed signs, constructed a 5-acre OHV staging area and built a restroom at Sand Mountain, Campbell said.

“We want to go out and enjoy the same things that hikers want — we want these remote areas to be beautiful and accessible,” he said.

Those interested in donating to BlueRibbon’s legal challenge can do so at the Utah Public Lands Alliance’s website. Those interested in volunteering for future projects can email Campbell here.

To get involved with the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and learn more about donating and volunteering, follow this link.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2023, all rights reserved.