Environmental groups lose case over off-road vehicles

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Environmental groups lose case over off-road vehicles

Post by Crowdog » Mon Jun 14, 2004 10:24 pm

Environmental groups lose case over off-road vehicles
Debbie Hummel
Associated Press
Published June 15, 2004

SALT LAKE CITY -- The Supreme Court on Monday blocked a lawsuit that accused the federal government of doing too little to protect undeveloped Western land from off-road vehicles.

The court, on a 9-0 vote, said environmental groups cannot use courts to force the federal Bureau of Land Management to more aggressively safeguard about 2 million acres of potential wilderness in Utah.

Justices had been asked to clarify when a federal agency can be sued for failing to follow a congressional mandate - in this case, to preserve the pristine quality of lands being considered for wilderness designation.

Tina Kreisher, an Interior Department spokeswoman, praised the decision, saying it allows federal resource managers to ``use their expertise to make day-to-day management decisions without unnecessary litigation.''

Environmentalists said the lawsuit nonetheless drew attention to the damage done by off-road vehicles.

``It is not going away and neither are we,'' said Heidi McIntosh, a staff attorney for Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.

The environmental group sued the BLM to force land managers to be more aggressive in protecting lands adjacent to a state all-terrain vehicle park.

The case centered on 14,830 acres of forested high desert land abutting Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park that are being considered for wilderness designation. The park, located about 250 miles south of Salt Lake City near the Utah-Arizona border, is a popular destination for off-road vehicle users.

Monday's decision overturns a federal appeals court ruling.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the Supreme Court, said that Congress never envisioned ``pervasive oversight by federal courts over the manner and pace of agency compliance.''

Scalia said the land management agency has discretion to oversee lands being considered for wilderness designation, including allowing off-road vehicles there.

He noted, however, that the off-road vehicles have had negative consequences, ``including soil disruption and compaction, harassment of animals and annoyance of wilderness lovers.''

But he wrote that the agency is doing what it can with ``scarce resources and congressional silence with respect to wilderness designation.''

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