Last week the Bureau of Land Management announced that an emergency travel restriction put in place in 2006 would be finally be lifted.
This move comes after years of lawsuits, legal wrangling and court rulings.
While Factory Butte has the appearance of a serine setting, what it is behind the scenes is a bitter battlefield.
One side of the war has been the environmentalist movement, which has worked to close as much land as it possibly can to motorized access for decades.
The other side of the conflict has been OHV enthusiasts, business owners and local governments that rely on the influx of tourism dollars.
Factory Butte has been the focus of an ongoing clash, and it won’t likely end anytime soon.
The emergency travel restriction was originally put in place in order to protect a rare species of cactus that grows in the Factory Butte area.
ATV and motorcycle riders have been riding near Factory Butte for decades. For some, it’s a family tradition to spend Easter, Memorial Day or even summer vacation days to ride the open areas near Factory Butte.
It’s also a popular place for hikers and photographers.
Factory Butte is just one small portion of approximately 2.1 million acres managed by the Bureau of Land Management’s Richfield Field Office.
A resource management plan was adopted by the Richfield office in 2008, including a motorized travel plan. This plan essentially closed all but approximately 1 percent of the BLM’s holdings to overland travel on motorized vehicles. Prior to the implementation of the plan, approximately 77 percent of the BLM land was open to unrestricted motorized travel.
OHV use was limited to roads, trails and a few designated play areas, such as the Swing Arm City and Glenwood Hills. Last week’s announcement opens two more play areas, some 5,400 acres, to use by motorcycles, ATVs and other OHVs.
The Richfield RMP reduced open OHV use areas from 1.6 million acres to 9,890 acres.
Restrictions on OVH use are a good thing. Four-wheelers and side-by-sides don’t need to be everywhere, and shouldn’t be.
With the millions of acres available, there should be plenty of room for both motorized use, and non-motorized use.
There should be areas that are kept pristine, areas for grazing, areas for mineral development, areas for bicycling, hiking, camping, horse riding and yes, OHV use. All of these things are important and compatible with the mission of the BLM — management of the land.
The emergency closure was issued in 2006, just as the resource management plan for the BLM land was being completed. It felt like a slap in the face to many advocates who felt that it was an attempt to circumvent the lawful process of developing an RMP. Some felt that once in place, the restriction would stand.
After all, how often does the BLM open up land for use, especially to motorized vehicles?
However, at the time, BLM and U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials said the closure was only in place so that sensitive species could be monitored, along with the compliance of people in the area to protective measures such as signage, fencing and barriers. They have been surveyed and monitored for years, to the point that last week’s announcement came as a surprise.
By lifting the restrictions, the BLM has made good on a promise made more than a decade ago that the land set aside for motorized use would eventually be opened as long as it wouldn’t damage the sensitive species in the area.
With this opening comes more responsibility.
Riders need to be aware of where they are going, where they belong, where they don’t, and adhere to those rules.
The last thing this area needs for knuckleheads who can’t follow the rules to go into the areas that are still restricted and possibly damage protected resources. That would provide ammo for those who would like nothing more than to see all the BLM play areas in Wayne County shut down.
Be careful, and make sure other riders do the same. These open riding areas are a tremendous resource for locals and can be a popular draw for tourists if they are respected and taken care of.