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U.S. to Pay $1 Million in Fees for Fighting Enviro Groups

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - More than $1 million in attorneys' fees will go to six environmental groups that made the government rethink an extensive network of routes through the West Mojave desert for off-road vehicles.

The groups - made up of the Alliance for Responsible Recreation, the Wilderness Society, Friends of Juniper Flats, Western San Bernardino Landowners Association, California Native Plant Society and Community Off-Road Vehicles Watch - claimed the project would threaten the habitats of the desert tortoise and the Lane-Mountain milk vetch, an endangered local plant.

In September 2009, U.S. District Judge Susan Illston found the U.S. Bureau of Land Management violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Federal Land Policy and Management Act by failing to place the routes specifically to minimize environmental damage.

She awarded attorneys' fees of $1,003,155 to the groups on Monday, finding most of their fee requests reasonable. Illston did not buy the bureau's "overstaffing" argument, which claimed the alliance had "eight attorneys at three different law firms" working on the case.

"The fact that eight lawyers worked at various times on this complex litigation over a six year period does not compel the conclusion that ARR overstaffed this case," she wrote.

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