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Justices block Utah wilderness lawsuit

/ Source: The Associated Press

The Supreme Court on Monday blocked a lawsuit that accused the federal government of doing too little to protect undeveloped Western land from off-road vehicles.

The court, on a 9-0 vote, said that environmental groups cannot use courts to force the federal Bureau of Land Management to more aggressively safeguard about 2 million acres of potential wilderness in Utah.

Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the court, said that Congress never envisioned “pervasive oversight by federal courts over the manner and pace of agency compliance.”

The Supreme Court had been asked to clarify when a federal agency can be sued for failing to follow a congressional mandate.

Scalia said the land management agency has discretion to oversee lands being considered for wilderness designation, including allowing off-road vehicles there.

He noted, however, that the off-road vehicles have had negative consequences, “including soil disruption and compaction, harassment of animals and annoyance of wilderness lovers.”

But he wrote that the agency is doing what it can with “scarce resources and congressional silence with respect to wilderness designation.”

The Denver-based 10th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the department could be sued for allowing damage to the lands. Justices reversed that decision.

The case is Norton v. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, 03-101.