Plumas National Forest is a 1,146,000-acre National Forest in the Sierra Nevada. The lawsuit argues the U.S. Forest Service, a division of the Department of Agriculture, violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), by blocking access to much of Plumas National Forest without a careful, factually specific review of environmental impacts, including consequences for the public.
“We are suing to stop federal officials from illegally ‘fencing off’ a vast portion of Plumas National Forest from responsible recreational use by the public,” said PLF Senior Staff Attorney Ted Hadzi-Antich. “Federal officials have a duty to protect the environment, but not to keep humans out of the environment. One of the primary purposes of our national forests is to provide for recreational uses. Yet the Forest Service is now prohibiting responsible recreation, by restricting access to thousands of roads and trails that the public has long had the right to use in motorized vehicles.”
PLF represents all clients without charge. The plaintiffs in this case are individual recreational users of the forest, including a disabled person whose long-time access has now been taken away; two associations of Californians dedicated to protection and recreational use of national forests; and two counties — Butte and Plumas — whose boundaries include substantial portions of Plumas National Forest.
The Forest Service’s 2005 Travel Management Rule provides for designation of roads and trails available for motorized recreation in the national forests. However, the Service implemented this rule in a flawed and illegal way when it issued its Plumas National Forest Public Motorized Travel Management Record of Decision and Environmental Impact Statement in 2010, according to the lawsuit.
In that 2010 decision, the Service excluded thousands of roads and trails used by the public for motorized travel and recreational purposes for decades. Although these routes had been previously unclassified and not officially part of the National Forest Transportation System, they were always open to the public and it was entirely lawful to use them for motorized travel. The Forest Service’s sudden decision to start banning motorized use of these routes was made illegally, without the factual analysis required by NEPA.
“Regulators closed off these roads without open and careful review of the facts,” said Hadzi-Antich. “This kind of drive-by decision-making isn’t just a careless way to make policy for our national forests. It’s also illegal. When decisions affect public lands, NEPA requires site-specific analysis of the environmental and human consequences, and that didn’t happen here.”
“The Forest Service failed to adequately consider the human toll that results from denying Californians and others the ability to continue cherished and family-friendly recreational activities that have been taking place in the Forest for generations,” said Hadzi-Antich. “Particularly egregious is the fact that the closure of these roads and trails deprives disabled persons, who require motorized vehicle transport, to enjoy many parts of Plumas National Forest.”
“The Forest Service’s decision also negatively impacts residents of Plumas and Butte Counties who depend upon access to the Forest for low-cost sources of food and fuel,” he added. “It also adversely affects numerous commercial interests in Plumas and Butte Counties that derive income from providing services related to motorized vehicle use and recreation, both for county residents and tourists attracted by the Forest’s recreational opportunities.”
“The forest belongs to the people, and, in a responsible way, we should be able to use it,” said Plumas County Supervisor Terry W. Swofford. “This lawsuit is about the freedom to access public lands,” added Plumas County Supervisor Sherrie Thrall.
Filed with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, the case is Granat v. United States Department of Agriculture. Further information, including the complaint, a video, a podcast, and an explanatory blog post, may be found at www.pacificlegal.org.
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