South-Western Legal Studies in Business

Areas Being Considered for Wilderness Designation Need Not Be Vehicle Free Now
Description Supreme Court held that the BLM had not violated its authority by declaring certain lands to be wilderness study areas but did not ban vehicle use from such areas. Under its authority, the BLM may study such areas for possible designation as wilderness areas, but it need not ban vehicles prior to such time.
Topic Environmental Law
Key Words Federal Lands, BLM, Multiple Use; Wilderness Study Areas, Off-Road Vehicles
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Half of the state of Utah is federal land administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Its management is governed by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) which created a policy favoring "multiple use management." The term means the agency is to balance competing uses, including recreation, timber, minerals, fish, watershed, wildlife, scenery, animal grazing, and other purposes. This means conflicting uses. Under the Wilderness Act, the Secretary of Interior has identified some BLM lands as "wilderness study areas" (WSAs). That means consideration for permanent wilderness designation. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance sued, contending that the BLM failed to protect WSAs properly because off-road vehicles (ORVs) had not been banned from such lands. The district court dismissed the suit; the appeals court reversed. The BLM (Secretary of Interior) appealed.

Reversed. Land use plans used by the BLM are tools to project present and future use. It is a statement of priorities; federal law does not direct the details of what BLM must do under such plans, so federal courts cannot force the BLM to take specific land use actions under its statutory authority. The agency has broad discretion and the courts will not intervene in that. Allowing ORVs to have access to WSAs does not violate the discretion of the BLM. Should the WSAs receive designation as wilderness areas, then they fall under the rules concerning such lands.

Citation Norton v. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 124 S.Ct. 2373 (2004)

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