Judge rules against
Forest Service travel plan
Capital Press by Mateusz Perkowski February 25, 2014
A federal judge has ruled that some of the U.S. Forest
Service's road closures in an Idaho national forest are in
violation of environmental law.
Portions of a national forest travel plan that effectively shut
down nearly 1,000 miles of roads in Idaho violated environmental
law, according to a federal judge.
The ruling pertains to roads that the U.S. Forest Service has
deemed “unauthorized” for motorized travel in the Payette
The agency imposed new regulations in 2008 due to concerns about
the effect motorized travel had on wildlife and water quality.
The government of Valley County filed a lawsuit against the
agency in 2011, arguing the road closures hurt tourism and
hindered travel in the area.
National forests comprise about 75 percent of the county’s land
area. The federally-owned property doesn’t generate tax revenue,
so the county argued it is economically dependent on visitors.
The county claimed that the Forest Service reversed its
traditional policy of leaving roads open unless they are
specifically designated as closed.
Under the new policy, roads are considered closed unless the
agency classifies them as open, the complaint said.
The lawsuit claimed that the Forest Service had violated the
National Environmental Policy Act by adopting the plan without
fully studying the effects of unauthorized roads.
Chief Judge Lynn Winmill has agreed with some of the country’s
While some of the studies conducted by the Forest Service were
adequate, others did not take the required “hard look” at
environmental consequences, the judge said.
The agency’s method of evaluating some roads was never explained
in NEPA documents and was only uncovered during litigation, he
This “proxy methodology” doesn’t directly study the impact of
unauthorized roads and isn’t sufficiently explained by the
agency, the judge said.
The agency based its conclusions on “open acres” used for
cross-country travel without saying how they “translate to the
impacts of use of unauthorized roads,” Winmill said.
Although the judge found the Forest Service’s regulations
violated NEPA in some areas of the national forest, the ruling’s
impacts on travel have yet to be decided.
Winmill has asked the attorneys in the case to submit further
court briefings on the matter and possibly reach an “agreement
“The Court’s options are quite limited; in contrast, the parties
can use their creativity to craft a solution far better than
anything the Court could impose,” the judge said.
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