"This is a tremendous step forward for spectacular at-risk Utah public lands," said SUWA conservation director Heidi McIntosh. "The Tenth Circuit's decision puts the BLM on notice that it can no longer hide behind half-hearted measures to protect Utah's wilderness quality lands; protection of these wild places must be the BLM's Number One Priority," McIntosh continued.
SUWA staff attorney Steve Bloch agreed, "This decision gives some of Utah's most magnificent landscapes a new lease on life from ever-encroaching off-road vehicle damage. It's time to bring balance to how BLM manages public lands; peace and quiet is as important a public resource as opportunities for recreation."
The 45 page majority decision reversed and remanded all three counts appealed by conservationists, and directed the district court to determine, among other things, whether Utah BLM has allowed impermissible off-road vehicle damage to some of Utah's most stunning and spectacular wild places.
Earthjustice attorney Jim Angell, who argued the case before the appeals court in January 2002, anticipates that this decision will reverberate around the country, "First BLM ignored its legal duties and then it tried to evade the courts. Nothing doing, said the Tenth Circuit. Now that the court has announced that it will be looking over BLM's shoulder, we can only hope that the agency will take its responsibility to protect magnificent public lands from off-road vehicle damage more seriously in the future."
The Tenth Circuit's decision overturned Utah federal district judge Dale Kimball's December 2000 ruling that dismissed claims by conservationists that Utah BLM was permitting rampant off-road vehicle use to damage fragile southern Utah landscapes. The case will be heard on remand by Utah federal district judge Paul Cassell.
The conservation groups involved in this litigation include Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society, the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Wildlands CPR, the Utah Council of Trout Unlimited, American Lands Alliance, and Redrock Forests.