PHOENIX - A federal judge struck down claims by environmental groups Monday that questioned the federal government's plan to protect plants and animals within two national monuments in the Arizona Strip.
The ruling affirmed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's environmental plan, saying the agency is adequately protecting the natural landscape, endangered species and archaeological artifacts within the Grand Canyon-Parashant and Vermilion Cliffs national monuments.
A 2009 lawsuit filed by the Wilderness Society, Arizona Wilderness Coalition, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Wildlands Council and National Trust for Historic Preservation contended that off-road vehicle use and grazing in the national monuments was destroying historic artifacts and critical habitat for endangered species like the desert tortoise.
But U.S. District Judge Paul G. Rosenblatt said the agency fulfilled its obligation under federal land policies and the presidential proclamation that created the monuments in 2000.
"BLM took significant steps to reduce impacts of vehicle travel and grazing, the two uses that plaintiffs claim will harm monument objects," the ruling said.
"This is the first step and we're obviously disappointed with the results here," said James Angell, the lawyer who argued the case for Earthjustice, a nonprofit law firm representing the groups. "Win or lose, we knew this was going on to appeal."
Angell said the conservationist organizations will appeal the decision to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The judge also ruled against a suit brought by the Tucson-based Center for Biological Diversity that claimed the use of lead ammunition by hunters in the two areas is poisoning species like the California condor.
The two cases were combined for a hearing last week on the groups' request for summary judgment.
Adam Keats, a lawyer with the center, said the group will continue pressing its case on lead ammunition. He said federal agencies need to be held accountable.
There was no answer late Monday afternoon at BLM offices in Phoenix, St. George, Utah, and a spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to an email.