NRDC et al. v. McCarthy et al.

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Factory Butte rises mightily over Utah’s desert landscape. Nestled amid some of the most iconic national parks in the United States, the area sustains endangered species like the Wright’s fishhook cactus and Winkler’s pincushion cactus.

But the reckless use of off-road vehicles (ORVs) has marred this fragile ecosystem, resulting in lasting soil damage and severe declines in cacti populations. In 2006, after years of public pressure and growing evidence of the destruction caused by these vehicles’ heavy tires, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) ordered the area surrounding Factory Butte closed to them. Despite continued illegal use of ORVs by some, as time passed the land began to heal.

Then, on the eve of Memorial Day weekend 2019, the BLM arbitrarily, and quietly, reversed these protections and reopened 5,400 acres surrounding Factory Butte to unrestricted ORV use. Though records show the BLM was in touch with a select few political allies well ahead of its announcement, the agency’s decision was shrouded in secrecy. The bureau offered no prior notice to the public and no opportunity for the public to weigh in on the management of these shared federal lands.

BLM Opens Utah’s Iconic Factory Butte Area to Off-Road Vehicles

The Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management kicked off the start of the summer season with a recent announcement that off-road vehicles will be allowed near southern Utah’s Factory Butte, upending a 13-year ban that protected a cactus species from extinction. Back in 2005, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance successfully petitioned the Bush administration to close off 5,300 acres of federal land to protect the Wright fishhook. The decision not only threatens the endangered cacti but also means that one of Utah’s iconic landscapes will suffer damage that could last decades. Learn more:

Posted by NRDC on Tuesday, June 18, 2019

That’s why, on August 1, 2019, NRDC, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and the Wilderness Society sued the BLM and the U.S. Department of the Interior for violating the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to undertake any new environmental review to justify their change of course in deciding to open the area to destructive use. In April 2020, the district court ruled against our arguments—but we appealed based on the court’s failure to fully consider our arguments before issuing a decision. Oral arguments on our appeal are scheduled for March 2021.

Off-road vehicles may be appropriate in some places, but not in the area ringing Factory Butte. The saying is “Leave only footprints.” Not tire ruts.

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