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Environmental Groups Sue BLM Over Factory Butte, Off-Road Vehicles

Ray Bloxham
Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance
Left: A spring wildflower bloom enhances Factory Butte’s unique photographic appeal. Right: Extensive ruts left by ORVs near Factory Butte remain visible even after torrential rainfall. Ray Bloxham/SUWA";

In between the San Rafael Swell and Capitol Reef National Park, Factory Butte rises out of the desert like an impossible pyramid of shale in a sandstone sea. Clearly visible from U.S. Highway 24, the butte is often the muse of photographers and day tourists captivated by its grandeur and moon-like hills surrounding it. 

But, environmentalists say, the Bureau of Land Management is allowing the area to be decimated by off-road vehicles, and three groups filed a lawsuit last week against the bureau. 

“They’re not seeking the required public input, they are just unilaterally making these decisions, and that is problematic, and illegal,” said Laura Peterson, the staff attorney for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, who joined the Natural Resources Defense Council and The Wilderness Society in federal district court on Aug. 1. 

The groups argue when the BLM opened up factory butte to off road vehicles in May, it put the sensitive rock formations in harm’s way, and went around the Environmental Protection Act, by not conducting the proper environmental review and public comment period. The area had been closed to vehicles for 12 years in order to protect the wright fishhook cactus, an endangered cactus species that only grows in specific conditions, that the Factory Butte area provides. 

“It’s extremely sensitive, it’s different," Peterson said. "The mancos shale is pretty different than a lot of landscapes around the Colorado Plateau. It is kind of a badlands area that explodes with color in the spring when there’s flowers that bloom, it’s a pretty magical place.”

The BLM said it does not comment on ongoing litigation, but boasts about Factory Butte on its website, especially the off roading potential, calling it an unparalleled riding experience.