Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Judge rules for ICL in travel-plan case

Express Staff Writer

A state district court found in favor of the Idaho Conservation League last week in its suit against the U.S. Forest Service to close certain trails pending a revision to the Salmon-Challis National Forest travel plan.

The Boise-based organization requested that U.S. Magistrate Ronald E. Bush issue an injunction to close 29 trails to motorized use on the Salmon-Challis National Forest pending a decision from the court that could overturn the 2009 Travel Management Plan.

Bush granted an injunction on Nov. 1 to close six trails, totaling almost 15 miles instead of the more than 94 miles requested by the organization.

The closures were based on a conclusion that the trails could undergo "irreparable harm" if they remained open to motorized use before the travel plan could be revised.

Closures include a segment of the Burnt Aspen Trail, less than a mile in length, in the Pioneer Mountains on the east end of the trail.

Bush ruled that even though irreparable harm is unlikely on this particular trail, the Forest Service did not evaluate exactly what impacts could be caused by continuing motorized use, and therefore the trail should be closed for the time being.

The organization's suit came in response to a February decision by Bush that required the Salmon-Challis National Forest to revisit its 2009 travel plan.

Bush writes in his recent decision that the Forest Service failed to show that it had considered the full extent of the impacts of motorized vehicles, such as ATVs and other off-highway vehicles, on routes less than half a mile long in recommended wilderness and roadless areas.

Bush ruled that this consideration is required by the National Environmental Policy Act, and therefore the agency was in violation of federal law.

The injunction was issued because the Forest Service and the organization failed to come to an agreement over which trails should be closed while the agency revised its travel plan. As a result, Bush reviewed the trails in question and made his ruling.

The Forest Service must now develop a revised environmental impact statement and a plan that complies with all federal statutes by Aug. 31. The plan that follows from this statement will be subject to review from a state district judge as well.

Katherine Wutz:

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