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State of Utah v. Andrus

United States District Court for the District of Utah
486 F.Supp. 995 (1979)


The Cotter Corporation (Cotter) (defendant), a uranium-mining company, owned mining claims in the State of Utah (state) (defendant), including claims on federal land and a mineral lease on state school-trust land (trust land). The federal government granted the trust land to the state in exchange for the state’s agreement to disclaim the remainder of the public domain and use the trust land to generate public-school revenue. Access to the trust land required access to public land managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) (plaintiff). Cotter built access roads across BLM land without notifying the BLM. At the same time, the BLM conducted a wilderness inventory under the Federal Land Policy Management Act (FLPMA) and designated the land explored by Cotter as a wilderness-study area. Upon discovering the access roads, the BLM requested that Cotter cease its road-construction activities. Cotter refused. The BLM brought suit against Cotter in the United States District Court for the District of Utah. The state intervened as a defendant, claiming a right to access BLM land in order to make economical use of the trust land. The BLM claimed that § 603(c) of the FLPMA, 43 U.S.C. § 1782(c), gave the BLM the right to manage its land under a strict standard that prevented the impairment of wilderness characteristics by land uses that commenced after October 1976. The BLM claimed that the lenient “unnecessary or undue degradation” management standard authorized by § 603(c) did not apply to Cotter, because Cotter’s land use did not commence prior to October 1976. Cotter claimed that § 603(c) authorized only the unnecessary-or-undue-degradation standard, and that this standard applied to Cotter because Cotter had the right to access its claims prior to October 1976. During litigation, Cotter presented a plan for the reclamation of land affected by Cotter’s road-construction and mining activities. However, the BLM did not have the opportunity to review the plan prior to consideration by the district court.

Rule of Law


Holding and Reasoning (Anderson, C.J.)

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