Barnes v. Babbitt
329 F.Supp.2d 1141 (D. Ariz. 2004)

  • Congress created the Arrastra Wilderness Area in Arizona.
    • Wilderness Areas are created under the Wilderness Act (16 U.S.C. 1132).
  • There was some private land located within the boundaries of the Wilderness Area (aka an inholding). There used to be a road leading to the inholding, but it was in disrepair and unusable. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) decided to allow the road to be repaired and used by motor vehicles.
    • Despite the fact that the Wilderness Act says that Wilderness Areas are not to have motorized activities (cars, roads, etc.) or permanent structures.
    • There was some debate on whether the 'road' was an actual road, or just a dirt trail that had occasionally been used by off-road vehicles.
  • Environmental groups (led by Barnes) sued for an injunction.
  • The Interior Board of Land Appeals (IBLA) found for BLM and allowed the road to be repaired. Barnes appealed.
    • IBLA found that limited motor vehicle use would not compromise the wilderness characteristics of the area because those did not exist.
      • IBLA noted that there had previously been many roads in the area, so it wasn't 'pristine and untouched'. Since the area wasn't really a 'wilderness' anyway, one road wouldn't make much of a difference.
  • The Trial Court reversed and issued the injunction.
    • The Trial Court found that IBLA did not have the authority to overrule Congress' decisions on what was and what wasn't a 'wilderness'.
    • The Court found that Wilderness Areas are to be 'roadless'.
      • The Court looked to the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that had been written at the time Arrastra was designated a Wilderness, and found that the EIS declared the area to be 'roadless'. So the trails that BLM had cited as being roads must not have been roads at all, just unimproved dirt trails.
    • The Court found that improving the dirt trail to the point where it would be an actual 'road' would be in violation of the Wilderness Act.