Price BLM Office Expects no Significant Impacts to Result from Ruling in SUWA Matter
It's business as usual for the United States Bureau of Land Management's field office in Price, despite the major verdict recently handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding litigation filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.
At the center of the controversy were federal lands in southeastern Utah, namely land located in Emery, San Juan and Kane counties.
In 1999, SUWA contended that BLM management of the land had been lax and was failing to protect the area from the damage caused by off-road vehicles.
Delivering the court's opinion after five years on June 14, Justice Antonin Scalia indicated that SUWA had been seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for BLM's failure to act.
Three claims were made by SUWA. The group claimed that:
The BLM violated the federal agency's non-impairment obligation by allowing degradation in certain wilderness study areas (WSAs).
The BLM failed to implement provisions in the federal agency's land management plans relating to off-road vehicle use.
The BLM failed to take a hard look at whether, pursuant to the National Environmental Policy act of 1969, the federal agency should undertake supplemental environmental analyses for areas in which ORV use had increased.
"Protection of wilderness has come into increasing conflict with another element of multiple use, recreational use of so-called off-road vehicles (ORVs), which include vehicles primarily designed for off-road use, such as lightweight, four-wheel 'all-terrain vehicles,' and vehicles capable of such use, such as sport utility vehicles," wrote Justice Antonin Scalia in the court ruling.
However, Scalia stated that, in regard to section 1782 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), "Section 1782(c) is mandatory as to the object to be achieved, but it leaves BLM a great deal of discretion in deciding how to achieve it. It assuredly does not mandate, with the clarity necessary to support judicial action under Ã¯Â¿Â½706(1), the total exclusion of ORV use."
In the end, the court ruled that, while it was authorized to "compel agency action ... unreasonably delayed," it could not consider a delay as unreasonable in regards to an action which was not required.
"For example, a judicial decree compelling immediate preparation of all of the detailed plans called for in the San Rafael plan would divert BLM's energies from other projects throughout the country that are, in fact, more pressing. And while such a decree might please the environmental plaintiffs in the present case, it would ultimately operate to the detriment of sound environmental management," stated Scalia..
SUWA publicly voiced the group's disappointment regarding the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the matter.
"In light of the current administration's hostility to public lands, it is disappointing that today's decision will make it more difficult for citizens groups to force the BLM to comply with the law and protect the land from the damaging effects of off-road vehicles," noted SUWA in a statement released the day of the ruling.
"It is important to emphasize that the court's decision does leave other avenues open to us as we continue to pursue our goal of ensuring that the BLM lives up to its responsibility to protect Utah's magnificent public lands from the scars of ORV damage. We intend to redouble our efforts until this problem is resolved," continued the statement released by SUWA.
Ruth McCoard of the BLM Price field office indicated that the court verdict will not have significant effect on the plans of the local office.
Price BLM officers are currently working on a resource management plan for the Price River district and the San Rafael. Each area used to have a separate plan, however Price BLM is presently combining the plans and updating the information.
As for off-road vehicles, McCoard said the BLM will continue to consider it part of the multiple use concept.
"There are places where it's appropriate and places where it is not," she concluded.