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Lawsuit Alleges Motor Vehicle Restrictions On Public Lands Discriminate Against Disabled People

US Forest Service
According to current laws, wheelchairs are permitted in wilderness areas, but managers don't have to create special accomodations for visitors with disabilities.

This year the Dingell Natural Resources Act was signed into law. This act designated over 600,000 acres of wilderness in Utah and created the San Rafael Swell Recreation Area. But not everyone is happy about this.

Rainer Huck, the former director of Utah Shared Access Alliance, filed a federal lawsuit this month against the Bureau of Land Management. He said restricting motorized travel on public lands constitutes discrimination.

“It is because they have been discriminatory in their management practices against the handicapped, elderly and disabled people who can travel only by the use of motor vehicles. The culmination of this is the recent wilderness bill in the San Rafael Swell which designated 611,000 acres of wilderness,” Huck said.

Huck said this new wilderness designation would close 80 miles of county ATV roads and a large number of small access roads to motor vehicles.

“This is the main thrust of the lawsuit: to restore access to the public lands for our most vulnerable people,” Huck said.

According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, agencies are not required to provide special accommodations or facilities within wilderness areas for persons with disabilities.

The BLM declined to comment on ongoing litigation. However, Rachel Wooten, a public affairs specialist for the BLM in Utah, said that the BLM is committed to maintaining access for everyone.

“The Wilderness Act preserves rare wild places and allows for access to non-mechanized and -motorized use. Congress has made it clear that the use of a wheelchair – that is allowed in wilderness. There are lots of accommodations and we really encourage people to use their public lands,” Wooten said.

Following publication, the BLM clarified that non-mechanized and non-motorized transportation is allowed in wilderness.