IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM BILL DART, BRC EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR:
Greetings BlueRibbon Coalition members and supporters,
It is an absolute pleasure to share the great news about the Supreme Court ruling announced yesterday. In a rare 9 to 0 decision, the Supreme Court upheld a Utah District Court ruling dismissing claims brought by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) and several other anti-access groups in a lawsuit originally filed against the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) in Utah.
In October of 1999, Rainer Huck, president of the Utah Shared Access Alliance (USA-ALL) contacted BRC with advance word that SUWA was filing a very large lawsuit against the BLM. Among other things, SUWA demanded the court ban all vehicle use on nearly 10 million acres! The national significance of the lawsuit was immediately apparent. We had to move to intervene fast in order to prevent an out of court, “sweet heart” settlement.
Soon after we were granted intervention, SUWA filed for a Temporary Restraining Order, asking the court to immediately close nine popular OHV areas. After five days of court testimony, the judge granted a motion offered by BRC that dismissed most of SUWA’s claims.
BRC and USA-ALL argued SUWA’s claims are about the sufficiency of BLM’s management of OHV use, and represents a “management through litigation” approach in an attempt to force the BLM into SUWA’s preferred management option, which is to close large areas to vehicle access. We also argued that effective solutions to management challenges require a balance of resource needs and local human interests. This balance is best reached when the BLM involves all public land visitors in its decisions.
BRC and USA-ALL argued that responsible recreational use, even the OHV use occurring inside Wilderness Study Areas, is properly occurring through coordination and collaboration with state, counties and OHV user groups. The BLM noted that while there may be some illegal OHV use occurring, they refuted SUWA’s allegations about the overall damage OHV use is causing. The areas have been the subject of extensive analysis and management planning by BLM to manage these areas responsibly.
The Court granted BRC’s motion to dismiss pertaining to the areas involved in the Preliminary Injection request, with prejudice, and denied SUWA’s Preliminary Injunction Motion as moot. The Court’s decision denying SUWA’s motion was immediately appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. But that decision was reversed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Both the BLM and the OHV groups petitioned for review with the Supreme Court. The Court granted review and heard argument in March of this year.
I wanted to give that background because it’s very likely the role of BRC has been notably absent from reports you may have read in your local newspaper. The obvious point is this; without effective legal representation, either millions of acres of Utah would be forever closed to vehicle access, or agencies of the federal government would be held hostage to the whim any special interest that can convince a judge to go along with their demands.
The national significance of BRC’s role in this case and the arguments can not be overerstated. The legal precedent SUWA sought in this case would apply to all federal agencies. If SUWA and their litigation partners had prevailed, the management activities of all federal agencies, not only the BLM, would be hostage to fringe groups of all manner and sort. It certainly would have paralyzed federal land management allowing anti-access groups to further force their agenda on land managers.
Everyone at BRC is very proud of this victory. The point I wish to emphasize, however, is how much BRC appreciates and values your membership and financial support. Without your support, these federal judges would not hear any other perspective besides that of SUWA’s. Because of your involvement, these judges heard from the people who actually use the roads these anti access groups want to close. Because you enabled BRC and USA-ALL to become involved, we prevented a future where the fringe SUWA-type groups would drive the day-to-day activities of agencies of the federal government.
In conclusion, allow me to express our sincere thanks to all who have faithfully and generously supported BlueRibbon.
In sincere appreciation,
Executive Director, BlueRibbon Coalition
SUPREME COURT REJECTS ANTI-ACCESS GROUP'S SUIT AGAINST BLM
Unanimous decision upholds ruling in Utah District Court made by BRC
June 15, 2004
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, but that decision was reversed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. Both the BLM and the OHV groups petitioned for review with the Supreme Court. The Court granted review and heard argument in March of this year.
"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-intervenor 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.
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."
"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. According 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 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. 1-800-258-3742. www.sharetrails.org