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Valley County, Idaho v. United States Department of Agriculture

July 27, 2012

VALLEY COUNTY, IDAHO PLAINTIFF,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS. VILLAGE OF YELLOWPINE ASSOCIATION; IDAHO RECREATION COUNCIL; CHRIS AND LOIS SCHWARZHOFF; BIG CREEK LODGE AND OUTFITTERS; PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES FOREST SERVICE; PAYETTE NATIONAL FOREST; SUZANNE C. RAINVILLE, FOREST SUPERVISOR; DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM DECISION

INTRODUCTION

The Court has before it cross-motions for summary judgment. The Court heard oral argument and took the motions under advisement. For the reasons expressed below, the Court will grant the motion of the Forest Service and deny the plaintiffs' motion.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

This litigation concerns the Forest Service's closure of user-created roads in the Big Creek - Yellow Pine area, located within the Krassel Ranger District of the Payette National Forest ("PNF"). In 1995, the Forest Service adopted a Travel Management Plan and Travel Map for the PNF. The Travel Map did not show that the Big Creek - Yellow Pine area was closed to motorized traffic, and under then-existing regulations an area was open to motorized traffic unless otherwise posted. The Big Creek - Yellow Pine area contains roughly eighty miles of roads created by private users of the National Forest area.*fn1 In the Big Creek - Yellow Pine area, many of these undesignated roads were created by private individuals using the National Forest to access private mining claims.

In 2003, the Forest Service approved the 2003 Payette National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan ("2003 Forest Plan"). The 2003 Forest Plan noted the need to revise and updated the 1995 Travel Management Plan and led to the Forest Service's adoption of the travel plan revisions at issue here. See FS020885.

The PNF travel plan revision process was also undertaken because of the United States Department of Agriculture's 2005 issuance of the nationwide Travel Management Rule. See 70 Fed. Reg. 68,264-91 (Nov. 9, 2005). The Travel Management Rule ("TMR") was designed to promote uniform Forest Service management of off-highway vehicle ("OHV") use in light of its significant growth and environmental impacts on National Forest Lands. Id. at 68,264-65. The TMR prohibits motor vehicle use on roads not explicitly designated for their use, in effect reversing the previous "open unless posted closed" policy. See 36 C.F.R. § 261.13.

Pursuant to its obligations under the 2003 Forest Plan and the Travel Management Plan, the PNF presented its "Travel Management Plan Final Environmental Impact Statement" ("FEIS") to the public on April 2007. As required by federal regulation, the EIS contained a "no action" alternative (Alternative A), intended to represent the status quo option. See FS081343; see also 40 C.F.R. § 1502.14. Alternative A would have left 510,930 acres, approximately one-third of the PNF, open to motorized cross-country travel. The FEIS noted that "[s]ome areas contain many miles of unauthorized road [sic] where travel impacts may be concentrated but the extent is unknown." See FS18405. However, Alternative A did not propose allowing any cross-country motorized travel in the Big Creek - Yellow Pine area. The Forest Service believed that it had prohibited cross-country motorized travel in the Big Creek -Yellow Pine since 2000 through the publication of an annual "Backroads Map" that showed the area as closed to cross-country motorized use. See FS18445.

Each of the proposed alternatives, except for Alternative A, prohibited cross-country motorized travel in the PNF. See FS018412. The FEIS recommended adoption of Alternative E, which it described as "reduc[ing] roads and two-wheel motorized trails, and provid[ing] greater ATV and OHV opportunities than Alternatives B and D, but less than Alternative C." See FS018315.

The PNF Forest Supervisor opted to issue separate decisions by ranger district. See FS019657. For the Krassel Ranger District, the Record of Decision adopted Alternative E, with some minor modifications. See FS019659-60. The ROD designated a small number of "unauthorized roads" as ATV trails. See FS019667. Otherwise, the ROD explicitly closed the entire area to motorized cross-country travel, though the Forest Supervisor again indicated that he believed the entire Krassel Ranger District was already closed to motorized cross-country travel through the Backroads Map. See FS019666.

The ROD noted a number of public comments in response to the FEIS that challenged the FEIS's characterization of the Big Creek - Yellow Pine area as previously closed to cross-country motorized use. In response, the Forest Supervisor acknowledged, "The Forest [sic] recognizes that there was some misunderstanding regarding the purpose and the enforcement of the Backroads Map publication. Regardless, it was used to determine the initial existing condition when beginning the travel plan." See FS019669. The Supervisor also committed to additional NEPA analysis to consider designating undesignated roads in the area:

I also realize that these roads and trails that do not appear on Backroads Maps, but do appear on the 1995 Travel Map are important to the recreating public, and will identify ways to possibly designate some of the routes in the near future. This will take additional site-specific NEPA, [sic] but these roads and trails will be high on the project priority list for funding the analysis.

Id.

Pursuant to this commitment, the Forest Service initiated additional environmental assessment of motorized vehicle route designation in the Big Creek - Yellow Pine area. As a preliminary step, the Forest Service assembled two interdisciplinary teams to conduct travel assessments for the Big Creek area and the Yellow Pine area. The travel assessments were released in March and June of 2009. Both included an inventory of area roads, including undesignated roads, and a partial survey of their use by the public. See FS033295; FS033114. The road inventory in each assessment appears to rely principally on a 2002 Forest Service road inventory undertaken in the area. See FS033280; FS033099. The travel assessments also considered the general impact of roads on soil and water, vegetation, fisheries, wildlife, recreation opportunities, and cultural resources. Finally, the assessments made a recommendation of decommissioning or designating each of the inventoried roads. See FS033195-96; FS033374-75. The assessments recommended decommissioning the majority of roads. The recommendations were based on inventory data on the number and quality of stream crossing, the propensity for erosion, and the Forest Service's assessment of each road's recreational value.

In April 2010, the Forest Service published the Big Creek-Yellow Pine Travel Plan Environmental Assessment ("2010 EA"). The 2010 EA no action alternative was defined as continued management of the area "as specified in the 2008 TMP ROD," i.e., with the area closed to off-road motorized use. See FS033512. The EA also included two alternatives that would have designated either 13.5 miles of currently undesignated roads for motorized use, in Alternative B, or 26.6 miles, in Alternative C. See FS033513-14. The EA study team rejected from detailed consideration an alternative that would have adopted the recommendations of the Big Creek Travel Assessment and Yellow Pine Travel Assessment because, though the route closures recommended "would have best met many of the resource concerns for fisheries and water quality," the assessments did "did not take into consideration the public sentiment" in favor of maintaining existing routes. See FS033511. The EA also eliminated from detailed consideration an alternative that would have opened non-designated roads to motorized use because that policy was inconsistent with the national TMR. See FS033510.

Shortly after the EA was released, also in April 2010, the Forest Supervisor issued a "Big Creek Yellow Pine Travel Plan Project Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact." The FONSI adopted the no action alternative from the EA, opting for the status quo created by the 2008 ROD. The Forest Supervisor rejected alternatives B and C on the grounds that the additional route designation without offsetting mitigation would likely degrade fisheries through opening additional stream crossings and trails in riparian areas. See FS033686-88. However, the Supervisor indicated that he would continue to consider designation of some roads in the future, stating that "I would like to proceed from here by re-analyzing the routes in the project area with more collaborative public involvement. This will allow the Forest to consider offsetting mitigations such as decommissioning of unused routes." See FS033685.

LITIGATION BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Idaho Recreation Council (IRC) and Chris and Lois Schwarzhoff filed their complaint on June 9, 2009 in what was then a separate case (1:09-cv-00275-BLW) before Idaho District Court Judge Edward Lodge. After the Forest Service issued its 2010 EA/FONSI, those Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint. Dkt. 26, 1:09-cv-00275-BLW. The Amended Complaint alleges that the Forest Service, in promulgating the travel management policy in the Big Creek - Yellow Pine area, violated the Administrative Procedures Act ("APA"); the National Environmental Policy Act ("NEPA"), and the National Forest Management Act ("NFMA").

Valley County filed a complaint under the instant case number on May 19, 2011. It similarly alleges that defendants' actions violate the APA and NEPA but does not allege a violation of the NFMA.

Valley County moved to consolidate the two cases on July 7, 2011. The Court granted the motion and designated Valley County v. United States as the lead case. On February 17, 2012, the IRC and the Schwarzhoffs filed the motion for summary ...


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