Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance v. Dabney
222 F.3d 819 (10th Cir. 2000)

  • The National Park Service (NPS) developed a Back-Country Management Plan (BMP) for Canyonlands National Park in Utah, in response to the growing number of visitors.
    • The BMP was intended to protect park resources, provide for high quality visitor experiences, and be flexible to changing conditions.
  • Inside the National Park was a dirt road that led to a creek. A lot of cars got stuck on the road, causing damage to the park (leaking oil, etc.). NPS wrote an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) that considered alternatives, and they eventually decided to close only a small portion of the road to traffic.
  • Environmental groups (led by SUWA) sued for an injunction.
    • SUWA argued that NPS was violating the National Park Service Organic Act ((16 U.S.C. 1-18(j)) and the Canyonlands National Park Enabling Act (16 U.S.C. 271) because allowing continued traffic on the road would permanently impair unique park resources.
    • NPS argued that they met their requirements by writing an EIS.
    • A number of off-road vehicle fans (organized as the Utah Shared Access Alliance) intervened saying that the park should be open for their enjoyment.
  • The Trial Court fond for SUWA. NPS appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that allowing the vehicles to continue to use the road was inconsistent with a clear legislative directive from Congress.
  • The Appellate Court remanded.
    • The Appellate Court applied the two-step test of the Chevron Doctrine.
      • See Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council (467 U.S. 837 (1984)).
    • First, the Court looked to see if the Statutes were ambiguous. The Court found that they were.
      • Overruling the Trial Court that found the Statutes to unambiguously prevent vehicle traffic in areas that could be permanently impaired.
    • Second, the Court looked to see if NPS's interpretation of the Statute was reasonable. They found that NPS's position was not sufficiently formal enough to determine if it should receive Chevron deference.
      • The Court noted that Agency interpretations contained in policy statements, Agency manuals, and enforcement guidelines do not warrant Chevron deference.
        • See Christensen v. Harris County (529 U.S. 576 (2000)).
    • The Court remanded to the Trial Court to determine if the evidence demonstrates the level of impairment prohibited by the Acts.