Dirt Bike News - Supreme Court Upholds BLM Jurisdiction of OHV Access - Dirt Rider Magazine

In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court upheld a Utah District Court ruling dismissing claims brought in 1999 by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and other anti-access groups against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). The suit targeted BLM's alleged inaction in managing Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) access. SUWA's demands to immediately close nine popular OHV recreation areas were rejected by the Utah District Court.However, the Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the department could be sued for allowing damage to the lands. Both the BLM and the OHV groups petitioned for review with the Supreme Court, which granted review and heard argument in March of this year in the Norton v. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 03-101 case. It was announced on June 14 that the Justices reversed the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals decision."Needless to say, we're delighted," said Bill Dart, Executive Director of the BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC). BRC led a coalition of OHV enthusiast groups who successfully petitioned for defendant-intervener status to aid BLM's defense of OHV management. "We are pleased the Justices rejected the 'management through litigation' model that is popular with anti-access groups," Dart added.The case before the Supreme Court turned on a fairly complex jurisdictional point. The Administrative Procedure Act allows lawsuits to compel nondiscretionary actions that have been unlawfully withheld or unreasonably delayed. The OHV groups convinced the District Court that SUWA's claims went far beyond this standard and were really attempting to dictate the everyday activity of the BLM. Thus, the case focused on the degree to which private parties dissatisfied with government action can sue the agency under an alternate "failure to act" theory.The bottom line of the 9 - 0 decision by the Supreme Court announced on June 14, is that environmental groups couldn't use courts to force the BLM to more aggressively safeguard about 2 million acres of potential wilderness in Utah. The Court had been asked to clarify when a federal agency can be sued for failing to follow a congressional mandate.Justice Antonin Scalia said SUWA's argument would insert the court into the day-to-day operations of the agency and "would divert BLM's energies from other projects throughout the country that are in fact more pressing. While such a decree might please the environmental plaintiffs in the present case, it would ultimately operate to the detriment of sound environmental management." Scalia said the land management agency has discretion to oversee lands being considered for wilderness designation, including allowing off-road vehicles there."We have raised these arguments with limited success since the mid 1990's, and it is reassuring to see the Court has ultimately agreed with our analysis," noted Paul Turcke, the Boise, Idaho lawyer acting as lead counsel for the OHV groups. "This case was never about limiting legitimate review of formal agency decisions, but will clarify that disgruntled and well-funded special interest groups cannot interfere with the ongoing administrative process simply by claiming the agency is failing to act," Turcke concluded.Important Message from Bill Dart, BRC Executive DirectorAccording to BlueRibbon Coalition sources, there are numerous other cases at various levels of the federal court system that will be affected by this ruling.The BlueRibbon Coalition: 800/258-3742; www.sharetrails.org is a national recreation group that champions responsible use of public and private lands, and encourages individual environmental stewardship. It represents over 10,000 individual members and 1,100 organization and business members, for a combined total of over 600,000 recreationists nationwide.