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  • Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. DabneySouthern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Dabney
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Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Dabney

United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
222 F.3d 819 (2000)


The National Park Service (NPS) (defendant) developed a backcountry-management plan (BMP) for the Canyonlands National Park (park) in Utah. The BMP closed one-half mile of a 10-mile segment of the park’s Salt Creek Road to vehicles, and allowed vehicles to access the rest of the road on a limited basis. The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance (plaintiff) sued the NPS in district court, claiming that vehicle use would permanently impair the Salt Creek area. The NPS claimed that any impairment would be temporary and that the National Park Service Organic Act (NPSOA), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1-18(j), and the Canyonlands National Park Enabling Act (CNPEA), 16 U.S.C. § 271, authorized the NPS to balance park resource conservation with visitor enjoyment. The district court reviewed the NPS’s interpretation of the NPSOA and CNPEA under the first step of the Chevron test. The district court found that the NPSOA and CNPEA clearly prevented the NPS from allowing the “significant, permanent impairment” of unique park resources, and enjoined the NPS from allowing vehicle use in the Salt Creek area. Utah Shared Access Alliance and other groups (intervenors) appealed, arguing that the NPSOA was ambiguous and that the district court should have applied the second step of Chevron. The intervenors claimed that an ambiguity arose from language in the NPSOA allowing the NPS to balance competing interests only if park resources remained “unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.” The NPS did not appeal the district court’s ruling, but submitted a brief arguing that “impairment” meant temporary impairment, which was a change from the NPS’s position in the district court proceedings. The NPS also submitted supporting draft management policies (policies) that were published in the Federal Register.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Ebel, J.)

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