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Utah Off-Road Vehicle Suit Revived

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Utah Off-Road Vehicle Suit Revived

Federal Appeals Court Revives Lawsuit to Close Parts of Utah Wilderness to Off-Road Vehicles

D E N V E R, Aug. 30 — A lawsuit seeking to close some proposed wilderness areas in Utah to off-road vehicles was revived Thursday when the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals sent the issue back to a lower court.

The three-judge panel said in a split decision that the federal court in Utah erred when it decided it lacked the jurisdiction to order the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to close the roads.

The judges also rejected the BLM's arguments about the scope of its discretion under federal wilderness laws and its assertion that courts don't have jurisdiction over the agency's daily decisions.

The appeals court, however, stressed that its decision was narrow, focused mainly on whether the U.S. District Court in Utah can get involved in the dispute. The appeals court did not address whether allowing off-road vehicle use will harm the proposed wilderness areas.

The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, The Wilderness Society and six other groups sued in 1999, claiming the BLM failed to protect the proposed wilderness areas when it allowed off-road vehicles on the sites.

The sites have been declared eligible to be federal wilderness areas. Under federal law, they must be managed as if they were official wilderness areas until Congress decides what to do with them.

Motor vehicles, development and other activities are off-limits in wilderness areas.

In 2000, U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball refused to close the sites to the vehicles and dismissed the lawsuit.

In a separate opinion, Judge Monroe McKay said the district court lacked jurisdiction in the dispute but environmental laws allow the groups to pursue their claims through the public comment process.

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