Recreation access groups win legal fight

Published February 1, 2001

On December 22, a federal judge gave pro-access recreation advocates a stunning victory when he ruled against a national preservationist group’s legal effort to ban off-highway vehicle (OHV) use on millions of acres in Utah.

After listening to six days of evidence and arguments, U.S. District Judge Dale A. Kimball denied a motion for preliminary injunction filed by the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA), which sought to ban OHV use in nine popular recreation areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

Beyond denying SUWA’s request for an injunction, Kimball granted a motion to dismiss filed by the Blue Ribbon Coalition (BRC) and the Utah Shared Access Alliance (USA-ALL) and ruled the court had no jurisdiction to consider SUWA’s claims regarding the disputed areas. While BLM had opposed SUWA’s request for an injunction, it failed to join in the recreational groups’ motion to dismiss.

“We hope this decision will help stop the ‘management through litigation’ model that seems popular with some activists,” said Paul Turcke, lead attorney for the BRC and USA-ALL. “The court recognized that administrative agencies, not federal courts, are the proper place to create effective solutions to recreation management challenges.”

“Access groups have repeatedly rallied to assist the BLM in striking a balance between use and protection of public lands,” said Brian Hawthorne, USA-ALL executive director. “The OHV community is often unfairly vilified by the media and wilderness advocacy groups. This decision provides an important step in the right direction away from that unfair stereotype.”

Don Amador, western representative for the BRC, added, “We have long argued that effective solutions to recreation management are best reached when the agency involves all users and local interests in its decision-making process. Perhaps this decision will have an impact on similar lawsuits filed by green groups against the BLM and Forest Service in other states and will convince the agencies to do what is right instead of doing what they think will avoid a lawsuit.

“The BRC decided four years ago to start a legal action team to empower our member organizations to protect legitimate multiple-use access to public lands,” Amador continued. “I believe this legal victory in Utah shows just how important that commitment is as OHV recreation and government land agencies face a blizzard of ‘ban-it-all’ lawsuits filed by anti-access groups throughout the country.”

The areas SUWA unsuccessfully sought to close to motorized vehicles include the San Rafael Swell, Behind the Rocks near Moab, Indian Creek in San Juan County, Wildhorse Mesa near Captial Reef National Monument, and the Coral Pink Sand Dunes.

The Blue Ribbon Coalition is a national non-profit recreation access group that champions responsible use of public lands. It represents over 1,055 organizations and businesses

Brian McIntosh moderates the Alliance for America List Server.