BLM announces approval of resource management plans
The United States Bureau of Land Management has announced that resource management plans for five of the federal agency's field offices in Utah were scheduled to receive final approval on Oct. 31.
The updated resource management plans cover public lands overseen by the BLM's Price, Kanab, Moab, Richfield and Vernal field offices.
"BLM Utah has reached an important milestone as we prepare to replace outdated RMPs with plans that reflect current conditions on the land as well as new and emerging patterns of public use," pointed out the federal agency's state director, Selma Sierra. "The new RMPs are the culmination of years of work and cooperation with the public, local and state governments, tribes, and our cooperating agency partners. This has been a truly collaborative effort in balanced stewardship for the future. We are pleased to have the plans completed and look forward to moving into the implementation phase of the planning process."
The updated resource management plans will help the agency meet a variety of challenges that have emerged since the previous RMPs were written up to 25 years ago, noted Sierra.
The challenges included improved recreation opportunities, better management of cross-country travel to protect natural resources, the use of management practices to mitigate impacts of energy development activities, and additional safeguards for the protection of environmentally sensitive areas.
The approved RMPs will become effective upon the signing of records of decision by the United States Department of the Interior's assistant secretary for land and minerals management, Stephen Allred.
A sixth resource management plan for BLM's Monticello field office has been approved by the federal agency and is awaiting final review by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
The plans represent important shifts in how BLM Utah manages the public lands. The guidelines have taken an average of six years to complete because BLM wanted to ensure that the commitments the plans represent were followed through, pointed out the federal agency.
For instance, 2.2 million acres of lands considered to be eligible for wilderness characteristics management were thoroughly analyzed. The BLM is managing 361,000 acres to preserve wilderness character on the lands in the five plans. Making the decisions meant almost starting from scratch in the Vernal and Price land use plans. The BLM believes the additional time invested was worth the benefit of resolving the wilderness questions in Utah.
Travel management is considered to be one of the hottest issues on public lands, particularly in Utah, explained he federal agency. In Utah's management plans, lands are being placed into one of three categories: open, closed or limited.
â¢Open areas are where cross-country off-highway vehicle travel is permitted.
â¢Closed areas are not available for motorized travel.
â¢Limited areas are restricted to designated routes and trails.
The routes may be available at certain times, in certain areas and/or to certain vehicular use.
BLM Utah is shifting from allowing open, cross-country travel on nearly all public lands to only specifically identified routes.
The travel plans close almost 1.1 million acres or 13 percent of public lands in the five plans completely to off-highway vehicle travel, according to the federal agency.
The plans allow travel on specifically identified roads on 7.6 million acres or 88 percent of public lands in the five planning areas.
The decision to allow cross-country off-highway vehicle use on 0.2 percent of all public lands across the five planning areas was applauded by the Utah governor's office.
Motorized recreation enthusiasts recognize the importance of making the decisions as crucial to overall better travel management on public lands, according to the BLM.
In addition to resolving the travel and wilderness management issues, the BLM also tackled difficult questions. Questions included where and how energy development will take place, what lands will be set aside for conservation and where and how recreation will be allowed on public lands in Utah.
The BLM was committed during the planning process to balance protecting environmentally sensitive areas while supporting energy resources in Utah.
In the plans, 53 percent of the acres open to oil and gas leasing are subject to stricter environmental controls. And 18 percent of the lands within the planning areas will be unavailable for leasing under any circumstance.
In addition to strictly controlling how and where energy development will take place, the BLM committed in the plans to find innovative ways to minimize the footprint on public lands.
The goal is done through best management practices, including directional drilling, well placement and sound muffling.
To minimize conflicts between recreation enthusiasts, the BLM had to identify where opportunities exist and prioritize where the different types of activities should be allowed, with public land protection being the primary goal.
To achieve the delicate balance, the federal agency explained that the BLM designated 23 new special recreation management areas in addition to the seven that existed.
The areas focus on different types of recreation in order to limit conflicts and protect resources like sensitive plants, views and cultural sites.
New special recreation management areas include Dolores River Canyons, Henry Mountains, Nine Mile Canyon, Fantasy Canyon and Range Creek.
The BLM has several opportunities to protect special areas, pointed out the federal agency.
Two of the opportunities in question are outlined in specific federal laws.
The statutory options include designating areas of critical environmental concern and identifying waterways that should be protected as wild and scenic rivers.
The BLM designated 11 new ACECs in the resource management plans.
The areas of critical environmental concern included Behind the Rocks, Highway 279 Corridor, Cleveland Lloyd Dinosaur Quarry and Lower Green River Corridor.
ACECs are areas where special management attention is required to protect resources.
During the planning process, the federal agency concluded that 19 waterway segments were suitable for designation into the national wild and scenic rivers system, continued the federal agency.
The waterways included segments of the Colorado, Green, Dolores, San Juan and Paria rivers.
The BLM intends to work closely with Utah and federal agencies in the future to submit a statewide wild and scenic rivers package to the U.S. Congress for consideration.
The BLM can also exercise the federal agency's inherent authority to protect special areas that may not qualify under any of the special designation criteria.
As a result of the Utah land use planning effort, the BLM will be managing 40 areas totaling 357,258 acres to protect, preserve and maintain wilderness characteristics.
The areas include Fisher Towers, Grand Gulch, Dirty Devil/French Spring and White River.
The protest letters received on all of Utah's proposed plans/final environmental impact statements were reviewed by the BLM director in Washington, D.C.
After consideration of all points raised in the protests, the national director's analysis indicated that BLM Utah followed all laws, policies and pertinent resource considerations in developing the plans.
Minor clarifications resulting from the review are incorporated into the approved resource management plans and discussed in the records of decision, concluded the federal agency.