The ruling reversed an earlier ruling by a federal judge that wilderness groups and environmentalists have a vested interest in the long and vitriolic legal battle.
The new ruling states that such groups as the Wilderness Society and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance lack property rights in the dispute and, therefore, do not have a dog in the fight.
The ruling states, “These societies have taken sides in what is essentially a property dispute between two landowners, the counties and the federal government. But the environmentalists lack property rights and as such they have no standing.”
State Representative Mike Noel of Kanab is thrilled with the ruling. “This is a major deal,” he said, “this is a big win for all the counties.”
The issue has been fought in court since 2003, when Kane County officials removed 31 Bureau of Land Management signs prohibiting off-highway-use-vehicles.
Both the Wilderness Society and the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance sued, saying such use of the land is in direct contradiction to federal land management plans.
The issue was heard in federal court in Utah, where Judge Tena Campbell ruled that environmentalists had a stake in the fight.
One of the two dissenting judges in the recent 9-2 decision wrote, “Today’s decision will work untold mischief.” The judge added, “This decision poses a real threat to the availability of relief for those injured by unconstitutional action.”
San Juan County Commissioner Bruce Adams said San Juan County leaders are pleased with the ruling. “This codifies the issue and will bring some relief from the seven-year court battle, which has been expensive and frustrating,” Adams said.
Adams said that San Juan County has 2,700 miles of Class B roads which it will continue to protect and maintain. “We will continue to litigate if there are any more challenges to the roads that have been ours, many for over 100 years.”
Adams said he is especially pleased that the ruling overturns three decisions by Judge Tena Campbell, who he said has sided with environmentalists every time the issue has landed in her court.