Uintah County v. Salazar (“Wildlands” Litigation)

LastChanceRanchBackground

Wilderness Designation Process

The Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA) established a process for designating Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) on public lands. FLPMA directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to inventory and study roadless areas under its management for wilderness characteristics.

Wilderness is “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” 16 U.S.C. § 1131(c).

To be designated as a WSA, an area must have the following characteristics:

  • Size: at least 5,000 acres
  • Naturalness: affected primarily by the forces of nature
  • Recreational opportunities: solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation
  • Ecological, geological, educational, historical, scientific, and scenic values (additional optional characteristics)

By November 1980, the BLM had completed its field inventories and designated about 25 million acres of WSAs. Congress has reviewed some of these areas and has designated some as wilderness and released others for non-wilderness uses. Until Congress makes a final determination on WSAs, the BLM manages these areas to preserve their suitability for designation as wilderness.

Secretarial Order 3310

On December 22, 2010, Ken Salazar issued Secretarial Order 3310 (the BLM issued its manuals shortly thereafter). Order 3310 created a new public land designation—”wild lands” that superseded existing land use management plans and created additional steps in the implementation of land management decisions. In essence, the BLM began managing “wild lands” as “de facto” wilderness in violation of the BLM’s rulemaking procedures, federal laws, and WSAs designation process. Order 3310 is a land management plan revision or amendment that circumvents mandatory statutory and regulatory procedures and disregards the deadline for WSA designations.

Litigation

In October 2010, Uintah County filed a lawsuit challenging the BLM’s “wild lands” designation as “de facto” wilderness management in contravention of the resource management plan. The State of Utah filed a separate action in April of 2011. The State and Uintah County’s lawsuits were later consolidated into one action. The State and county are asking the federal court to declare Order 3310 as an act beyond the Secretary of the Interior’s statutory authority and to set it aside as contrary to the law.

In response, the BLM filed a motion to dismiss, which the Court has denied  in July of 2014.

Litigation Timeline

October 2010 The State of Utah and Uintah County file suit in Utah federal district court challenging Secretarial Order 3310
April 2011 Environmental and conservation groups including the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (SUWA) intervene on behalf of the United States
July 2011 The United States files a motion to dismiss Uintah County’s case claiming the district court has no jurisdiction and the plaintiffs failed to state a claim
July – October 2011 The states of Wyoming and Alaska along with several land users associations are granted amicus curiae (friend of the court) status to support the state and county’s position
June 2014 Oral arguments held in district court before Judge Dee Benson on motion to dismiss
July 2014 Judge Benson denies the motion to dismiss

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