Utah governor files suit to invalidate federal wilderness order

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[JURIST] Utah Governor Gary Herbert [official website] announced on Friday that the state of Utah filed a complaint [statement] in the US District Court for the District of Utah [official website] against the Department of the Interior (DOI) [official website] regarding an order issued by Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar [official profile] in December. Secretarial Order 3310 [text, PDF] created a new “Wild Lands” designation for public lands and provided that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) [official website] would maintain an inventory of “lands with wilderness characteristics” within its jurisdiction and integrate the information into decisions regarding land use and management. The order further stated that the BLM should provide recommendations to Congress for designations of areas into the National Wilderness Preservation System [background materials]. The complaint alleges that the order violates provisions of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) and the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) [text] by not following proper procedures for notice and rulemaking and is outside of the DOI’s legal authority. Hebert relayed his concerns that the implementation of the order would have a negative impact on Utah’s economy by hindering land use and development:

In Utah, we have beautiful and resource-rich land. Our lands have supported both a strong energy development industry and a vibrant outdoor recreation industry for years. They can continue to do so if all stakeholders are allowed to collaborate within a proper legal framework to determine the best use for our lands. … Corporations will not invest the time or resources to prepare new bids and engage in new explorations in an unsteady regulatory environment. This order is bad policy, it’s bad for Utah, and it’s bad for the entire nation.

The complaint asks the district court to void the order, set aside any BLM manuals created pursuant to the order and prevent the DOI from issuing any further orders that would infringe on any existing BLM management plans.

This is not the first time a district court has been called upon to settle a dispute over wilderness protection. In February, the US District Court for the District of Idaho [official website] dismissed a lawsuit brought by environmentalists [JURIST report] that challenged the state’s “roadless rule” [JURIST news archive] to manage and protect its nine million acres of forests. The National Forest Service (NFS) [official website] issued the Roadless Area Conservation Act [text] in 2001, which prohibited the building of roads or the use of roadless lands in National Parks for timber production. The act is currently in force in all states except Idaho and Alaska. Environmentalists argued that Idaho’s version of the rule provided less protection than its federal counterpart. In February 2010, the US District Court for the District of Columbia [official website] granted summary judgment [JURIST report] for the NFS, upholding an agreement limiting the amount of timber that can be harvested in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest. Several Alaska towns and companies challenged the 2008 forest plan, which, among other things, designated parts of the forest “old growth reserves,” limiting the amount of timber that could be harvested.

Read more detail on JURIST – Paper Chase

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