BLM limits travel at Factory Butte Harm to rare cactus species prompts restrictions on ORVs By Joe Bauman Deseret Morning News Damage to a pair of rare cactus species has prompted the Bureau of Land Management to ban travel outside designated routes in most of the 148,500-acre Factory Butte region of southern Utah. Ravell Call, Deseret Morning NewsThe BLM has announced that off-road vehicle traffic will be restricted around Factory Butte near Hanksville to protect cactus. The decision seems certain to pour oil on the fiery controversy over Factory Butte. The debate pits environmentalists against off-road-vehicle riders: In 2005, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and Friends of Factory Butte filed a formal petition with the Interior Department seeking to have the area closed to "unregulated, intensive and resource damaging" use by off-highway vehicles. A letter accompanying the petition said "this beautiful landscape is also the target of a comparably small group of ORV (off- road vehicle) users that have crushed threatened cactus plants, damaged the soil, accelerated erosion that releases salt and toxic selenium, created dust storms, and destroyed the scenery with their tracks that mar and pervade the landscape." The Utah Shared Access Alliance, representing OHV users, had petitioned the BLM and others to designate Factory Butte as a special recreation management area for motorized recreation. The area should be "open to cross-country travel with only a few exceptions," the group added. "A large managed open area will provide a high quality recreational experience for people from all over the United States and will be of great value to local economies," says the Utah Shared Access Alliance petition. The BLM says its decision strikes a balance between the competing interests. Off-highway vehicles still will be able to travel what the BLM terms an "extensive network of designated routes" amounting to 220 miles. The agency says trails that are open include routes where driving varies from easy to challenging. The BLM promises easy access to the region, which is near the Emery-Garfield county border and close to Capitol Reef National Park. The BLM is setting up a 2,600-acre "open play area" at a site called Swing Arm City, where off-highway vehicles can travel cross- country. Also, restrictions don't forbid camping near designated roads through areas where OHV travel is forbidden, as long as the camping doesn't harm the threatened cacti. Adrienne Babbitt, spokeswoman for the BLM's Utah headquarters in Salt Lake City, said campers will be able to pull off adjacent to the routes. "We aren't closing the area," Babbitt said. "We're just managing where people can go." Coal Mine Wash and other popular camping areas will be available for camping, says a BLM press release. But OHV users won't be allowed to ride their vehicles in the surrounding hills. For the past seven years federal experts have been monitoring the threatened cacti. The Winkler cactus and the Wright Fishhook cactus have been damaged by off-highway vehicles, she said. "We've found that 57 percent of the known cactus sites in this area have declined in population," she said. The field studies showed that off-highway vehicles clearly caused damage to the plants. A resource advisory group helping the BLM, including environmentalists, OHV enthusiasts and others, studied the issue, Babbitt said. They could not come up with a consensus but gave their perspectives. Signs and fences are going up to inform the public which areas are open, she said. Kiosks in the Factory Butte region will hold maps showing designated routes, and a Web site through www.ut.blm.gov is to show the information. When a huge area of Factory Butte was open to cross-country travel, Babbitt said, "what we've found is that ... ecologically it just can't handle that kind of use."