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Future of Wilderness Weighed before Supreme Court

Bush administration seeks immunity from public challenge to land management decisions
March 29, 2004
Washington, DC —

Attorneys general from 14 states, every living former head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and its General Counsel, a coalition of 38 law professors, a veterans' advocacy group, and numerous conservation groups asked the nation's highest court today to retain a central check and balance that protects America's environment. The groups asked the court to reject a Bush administration effort to usurp the right of average Americans to bring environmental enforcement cases to protect America's natural resources.

The case before the court centers on undeveloped public lands in the west. The federal government is required by law to maintain the wild character of these lands. When off-road vehicle drivers damaged the lands with their vehicles, the federal government refused to take protective action until citizen groups initiated legal enforcement action. Although the government admitted that it was breaking the law by not adequately protecting these pristine and wild areas, it has offered a radical new legal theory in the Supreme Court under which the public would be helpless to enforce this and other legal duties.

"The Bush administration is trying to convince the court that they should be granted permission to operate above the law," said Earthjustice attorney Jim Angell. "They are calling for a significant power shift away from the people in this country and our tradition of checks and balances."

Potential wilderness areas in Utah and other western states are currently suffering unchecked and long-term damage from free-wheeling off-road vehicles. The federal Bureau of Land Management has failed to protect these areas, while also failing to implement legal requirements to designate and properly mark areas where off-road vehicles are free to recreate.

Angell explained, "We are facing an administration that has shown no interest whatsoever in protecting America's wildlands. Instead, it has worked nonstop to eliminate or weaken the environmental safeguards that protect these lands from exploitation by off-road vehicle users and the degradation caused by the administration's friends in the oil and gas industry."

The conservation groups defending America's wilderness before the Supreme Court include the 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. The groups are represented by attorneys from the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Earthjustice, and the Washington, DC, office of the law firm Jenner & Block.


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Photos of off-road vehicle damage. Public lands in Utah that the government failed to protect from off-road vehicle damage. These photos were submitted as evidence exhibits to the court. Photo credit: Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.





Click for 1 mb print quality photo. Courtesy Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.





Click for 1 mb print quality photo. Courtesy Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.





Click for 1 mb print quality photo. Courtesy Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.





Click for 1 mb print quality photo. Courtesy Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance.






Contacts

John McManus, (510) 550-6707

Jim Angell, (720) 272-1179

Steve Bloch, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, (801) 971-4198

Paul Smith, Jenner & Block, (202) 639-6060, Cell: (202) 258-5669

We're the lawyers for the environment, and the law is on our side.