Recreational Groups File to Enter Utah Desert lawsuit

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WASHINGTON, DC (April 8) — A coalition of recreational access groups moved today to join a lawsuit challenging Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans covering nearly seven million acres in Utah. The motion was filed by the Trails Preservation Alliance (TPA), Colorado Off-Highway Vehicle Coalition (COHVCO), and BlueRibbon Coalition (BRC), all trails-based, grassroots recreation advocacy groups. The lawsuit was filed by eleven preservationist groups, led by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Through the suit, the plaintiffs hope to have the BLM plans declared illegal and set aside, and ask the Court to issue an injunction preventing activities authorized by the plans until BLM issues new decisions complying with a host of federal statutes. The lands at issue are located in the BLM Moab, Price, and Vernal Field Offices, which include iconic destinations for all types of backcountry recreationists.

"Our groups have carefully participated in these planning processes," said Don Riggle, TPA founder. "We are far from satisfied with the final BLM decisions, but can obviously see that SUWA is attempting, through this suit, to close off access to even those trails that survived the designation process," Riggle concluded. "Our courtroom relationship with SUWA stretches back nearly a decade, and this suit seemingly breathes continuing life into that relationship," added Brian Hawthorne, BRC Public Lands Policy Director.

The lawsuit was originally filed on December 17, 2008, and targeted 77 lease sales for oil and gas drilling on BLM-managed lands. Those sales were halted by a temporary restraining order issued by the Court on January 17, 2009. The latest complaint, filed March 19, 2009, drops the claims against the oil and gas leasing projects, which BLM has apparently withdrawn. However, the current complaint adds claims addressing other uses, including off-highway vehicle use.

The Recreational Groups and SUWA have waged prior battles over BLM's management of Utah lands, most notably including a 2000 lawsuit by which SUWA sought to compel agency action meeting SUWA's vision of that required by BLM. In that suit, the Recreational Groups filed a motion to dismiss the case on jurisdictional grounds, which was granted by the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, reversed by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, but ultimately affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2004. During and subsequent to that case, BLM has been preparing the land use plans and travel management designations now under challenge in the present suit.

Contacts:Paul Turcke, Esq.
Phone: 208-331-1807
Fax: 208-331-1200
Email: pat@msbtlaw.com