Citing evidence that the US Forest Service failed to comply with environmental laws, a federal judge agreed with conservationists and struck down the Salmon-Challis National Forest’s Travel Management Plan. The travel plan would have allowed motorized use on hundreds of miles of trails—causing damage to forest resources like clean water, wetlands and wildlife.
“Big game and wildlife are coveted by all Idahoans, and we cannot allow one use to destroy what makes Idaho special,” said Brad Brooks of The Wilderness Society. “There must be a balance between motorized use and protection of wildlife resources.”
The ruling, which was issued on Friday, February 4, by U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush, found the Forest Service had violated the National Environmental Policy Act and Forest Service travel management regulations by failing to protect public resources from motorized use. Represented by Earthjustice, The Idaho Conservation League and The Wilderness Society filed suit in early 2010 asking the court to enforce federal environmental laws that require responsible use and better balance between motorized recreation and other forest values.
“Everyone has the right to enjoy our national forests, but no one has the right to abuse them,” said Brad Smith, of the Idaho Conservation League. “ATVs are a legitimate way to enjoy our national forests but should not be allowed to damage the clean water and natural beauty that belongs to all of us.”
The court ruled that the Forest Service failed to address extensive evidence submitted by Idaho Conservation League and The Wilderness Society documenting substantial resource damage from illegal and other off-road vehicle use. Some 400 miles of motorized routes were surveyed by these groups documenting former hiking trails and meadows reduced to muddy bogs, deep tire ruts, crushed vegetation and significant stream bank erosion.
“In rejecting this plan, the court has held the Forest Service must follow its own regulations for managing motorized use on our national forests. The agency will now have to explain how it is protecting these forests from the degradation off-road vehicles can cause,” said Kevin Regan, one of the attorneys at Earthjustice that represented the conservation groups in the case. “The law says that motor vehicles are a legitimate way for people to enjoy national forests, but only in the right places, and with proper management,” Regan added.
Smith and Brooks said this lawsuit will restore common sense limits so that traditional hunters, hikers and other recreational users will not be overrun by motorized recreation.
“We hope this decision will help shape a new plan that better balances motorized recreation and other recreational uses,” added Brooks. “Responsible use should be something all recreational users can agree is fair.”