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Wilderness Society v. United States Forest Service

United States District Court for the District of Idaho
850 F.Supp.2d 1144 (2012)


Facts

The United States Forest Service (USFS) (defendant) revised a travel plan for the Sawtooth National Forest (Sawtooth) in Idaho. The revision was required by the 2005 Travel Management Rule (Rule), 36 C.F.R. §§ 212.1-261.55, and by the Sawtooth forest plan. Motor-vehicle use was largely unregulated prior to the Rule’s enactment, resulting in the uncontrolled use of cross-country vehicles, unplanned routes, and environmental damage. The revised plan designated 94 miles of existing routes as open to off-road vehicle (ORV) use, and closed 650 miles of routes to ORV use. The USFS issued an environmental assessment (EA), a decision notice, and a finding of no significant impact (FONSI) for the revised plan, concluding that an environmental impact statement (EIS) was not required because the plan did not significantly impact the environment. The Wilderness Society (Wilderness) (plaintiff) sued the USFS, claiming that an EIS was required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), 2 U.S.C. §§ 4321 et seq., because the EA failed to address the impacts of newly designated and closed routes. Wilderness also claimed that the USFS had violated the National Forest Management Act (NFMA), 16 U.S.C. §§ 1600 et seq., by failing to include mitigation measures for water-quality impacts as required by the Sawtooth forest plan. Finally, Wilderness claimed that the USFS violated Executive Order 11644 as amended by Executive Order 11989 (EOs), which required the USFS to consider the compatibility of ORV use with existing or proposed recreational land uses. The USFS argued that (1) an EIS was not required, because the project designated existing routes rather than new routes, eliminated cross-country motor-vehicle use, closed trails, and maintained designated routes; (2) water-quality impacts were addressed by a forest-plan consistency checklist; and (3) the EOs did not provide for a private right of action.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Lodge, J.)

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  • A “yes” or “no” answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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