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Norton v. Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance

United States Supreme Court
542 U.S. 55 (2004)


The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) (defendant), an agency within the Department of Interior, is required to manage public funds pursuant to the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA). The FLPMA established a policy in favor of retaining public lands for “multiple use management.” The term “multiple use management” describes BLM’s task of striking a balance between the many competing uses to which land can be put. Under the FLPMA, designated wilderness areas generally may not have any commercial enterprise, permanent road, motorized vehicles, or manmade structures. Pursuant to the statute, the Secretary of the Department of Interior (Secretary) (defendant) identified certain areas—known as Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs)—to be subjected to further examination and further comment to evaluate their suitability for a wilderness designation. Such an area in Utah was recommended as suitable for a wilderness designation, but Congress failed to act upon the recommendation. The FLPMA provides that, in such a situation, the Secretary is to continue to manage the land in a manner that does not impair its suitability for preservation as wilderness. Off-road vehicles (ORVs) were being used on the land. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance and other organizations (plaintiffs) sued BLM, its Director, and the Secretary, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief for BLM’s failure to act to protect public lands in Utah from damage caused by the use of ORVs. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari.

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