Uintah County v. Zinke

Landowners attack unrestrained federal “wild lands” policy

Cases > Property Rights > Uintah County v. Zinke
Case Status: Active: Litigation is ongoing.

In 2010, the Department of Interior issued an order known as the “Wild Lands policy” that directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to preserve “wilderness characteristics” in federal areas not covered by other wilderness protection laws. BLM then imposes restrictive land use regulations on those areas and inserts itself into local, project-level decisions such as grazing permits. This policy and its implementation represent a major – and very intrusive – change in BLM land management practices. The State of Utah and others sued to invalidate this agency overreach. PLF supports this challenge as amicus representing eight industry and landowner organizations.

The federal Department of Interior imposed a new “Wild Lands” policy in 2010 without any notice to the public or ability to comment. This policy equips the Bureau of Land Management will an arsenal of tools for restricting productive use of public lands. When BLM designates land as “wild lands,” it then subjects that area to “high priority protection” that takes two main forms: land use planning and project permitting. Under land use planning, BLM may close wild lands to leasing, prohibit new roads, exclude commercial uses, and limit construction. Under project permitting, BLM withholds permits until the agency evaluates the project area for wilderness characteristics, creating long delays in the permitting process. BLM may also condition or deny permits. This policy conflicts with other federal laws that require public lands to support multiple uses, and prohibit the government from withdrawing land from productive use. It also circumvents the legislative process for designating national wilderness, which must be done by Congress, not unilateral agency regulation.

The Administrative Procedures Act requires federal agencies to provide notice of proposed rule-making by publishing the proposed rule in the Federal Register and inviting the general public to participate in the rule-making process by offering comments. The Department of Interior entirely bypassed this procedure, making the Wild Lands policy final and binding without any notice or comments. As such, the policy is invalid. As PLF’s amicus brief explains, the economic consequences are dire. The cattle industry provides food for the nation, jobs for the public, and tax revenue for local, state, and federal governments. The Wild Lands policy threatens to reduce the amount of land available for grazing, thus reducing the ability of this critical industry to function.

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What’s at stake?

  • Federal lands support agriculture, energy exploration, recreation, conservation and other uses. The difficulty inherent in reconciling these sometimes competing uses requires that agency decisions be informed by public comments.
  • The Wild Lands policy places vast swaths of federal land off-limits to productive use, circumventing the Administrative Procedures Act, the congressionally mandated process for imposing new regulations.

Case Timeline

Uintah County v. Zinke Documents 10-7-11

October 07, 2011 Download

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