Monday, March 9, 2009

Wilderness Watch v. Abigail Kimbell

Mar 6: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit, Case Nos. 07-3689, consolidated with 07-3696 and 08-1167. In this case involving the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness Act, Wilderness Watch, Sierra Club North Star Chapter, and Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness (collectively Wilderness Watch) brought suit against Abigail Kimbell, Chief of the United States Forest Service, and Ed Schafer, Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture (collectively Forest Service), alleging that the Forest Service's decision to construct a certain snowmobile trail between McFarland Lake and South Fowl Lake in northeastern Minnesota violated the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW) Act.

Wilderness Watch based its challenge on Congress's inclusion of South Fowl Lake (and of North Fowl Lake, to which it is connected) in the "wilderness" under the BWCAW Act. According to Wilderness Watch, the BWCAW Act prohibits snowmobiling on the Fowl Lakes (Count I) and requires the Forest Service to implement motorboat quotas on them (Count II).

The district court granted summary judgment to the Forest Service on Counts I and II, finding that the North and South Fowl Lakes are not "wilderness" under the BWCAW Act and therefore are not subject to snowmobiling and motorboat restrictions. But the district court also found that the environmental assessment (EA) prepared by the Forest Service for the plan to construct the snowmobile trail connecting the Fowl Lakes adjacent to the BWCAW failed to properly analyze the noise impact resulting from snowmobile use on the trail, as required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

As a result, the district court remanded to the Forest Service, instructing it to prepare an environmental impact statement (EIS) assessing the sound impact of the proposed trail routes on the adjoining wilderness area, and also enjoined the Forest Service from conducting any further activity on the proposed trail pending its completion of the EIS. Wilderness Watch appeals from the district court's grant of summary judgment to the Forest Service on Counts I and II, and Cook County, a political subdivision of the State of Minnesota, Conservationists with Common Sense, and Arrowhead Coalition for Multiple Use (collectively Intervenors) appeal from the district court's NEPA ruling.

The Appeals Court affirmed the district court decision and concluded, "Accordingly, we hold that Wilderness Watch's claims that the Forest Service (1) violated the BWCAW Act by permitting snowmobiles on South Fowl Lake and (2) failed to implement motorboat quotas on North and South Fowl Lakes in violation of § 4(f) of the BWCAW Act are time-barred by the six-year statute of limitations. As to the district court's NEPA ruling, we lack jurisdiction to review the district court's order remanding the matter to the Forest Service for an EIS and decline to vacate the injunction."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).