Federal District Judge B. Lynn Winmill has ruled that the U.S. Forest Service cannot go forward with a controversial land exchange on the west slope of the Grand Tetons. Judge Winmill ruled that the Service misled the public about the environmental damage that might result from the Grand Targhee land exchange, violating the National Environmental Policy Act. The ruling comes in response to a lawsuit filed by Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund on behalf of a coalition of six community and conservation groups. Judge Winmill’s order prevents the Targhee National Forest from delivering 120 acres of publicly-owned land at the base of Grand Targhee ski resort to GT Acquisition, a private developer, unless and until the Forest Service fixes its flawed analysis.
In his ruling, Judge Winmill found that the Forest Service failed to reveal the true environmental impacts of the land exchange, essentially putting a “thumb on the scales,” and glossing over the substantial development at Grand Targhee ski resort that would be propelled by the exchange. The Forest Service’s projections of development at the ski resort, according to the Court, suffered from failings “akin to ignoring the Rocky Mountains in evaluating the odds that Lewis and Clark would reach the Pacific Ocean.”
“The Court held that the Forest Service can’t sweep the impacts of this deal under the rug,” said Sanjay Narayan, an attorney for Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund. “The agency can’t simply ignore the environmental consequences of changing Grand Targhee from a small resort into a massive development.”
“The Forest Service stacked the deck to sell this deal to the public,” said Pam Lichtman of Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. “The Court affirmed that this was a flawed process, and it led to a flawed result.”
Conservationists hope a fair picture of the exchange’s impacts will lead the Forest Service to abandon the land exchange. “We’ve said from the beginning that creating a private and exclusive inholding in the midst of publicly-owned land is a bad deal for the public,” said Marv Hoyt of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition, one of the groups bringing suit. Lou Parri of Citizens for Teton Valley echoed that sentiment: “Keeping the ski resort on public lands ensures that any development at Grand Targhee will benefit the people and community of Teton Valley.”
“The Court’s decision means that the Forest Service has to tell the public what it’s giving up with this exchange,” said Kelly Matheson of Wyoming Outdoor Council. “the west side of the Tetons doesn’t need a sprawling ski resort.”
The organizations who brought the lawsuit are Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance, Citizens for Teton Valley, Inc., Wyoming Outdoor Council, Sierra Club, and American Wildlands.
For additional information, please contact:
Sanjay Narayan, Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund
Pam Lichtman, Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance
Lou Parri, Citizens for Teton Valley
Marv Hoyt, Greater Yellowstone Coalition
Kelly Matheson, Wyoming Outdoor Council
Deb Kmon, American Wildlands
John Spahr, Sierra Club