Thursday, October 13, 2011

Russell Country Sportsmen v. U.S. Forest Service

Oct 11: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case 10-35623 & 10-35784. Appealed from the United States District Court for the District of Montana. In this case the Appeals Court considers whether the United States Forest Service's (Service) 2007 Travel Management Plan for parts of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, including the Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area, violates the Montana Wilderness Study Act of 1977 (Study Act) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
    The Appeals Court said, "We hold that nothing in the Study Act, which requires the Service to manage a wilderness study area so as to 'maintain' its wilderness character as it existed in 1977, prohibits the Service from exercising its discretion to enhance the wilderness character of a study area. We also hold that NEPA does not require the Service to prepare a supplemental draft environmental impact statement (EIS) where, as here, the final decision makes only minor changes and is qualitatively within the spectrum of the alternatives discussed in the draft EIS. We accordingly reverse the judgment of the district court."
    Nine recreational groups having an interest in motorized recreation subsequently filed suit against the Service, seeking to invalidate the travel plan as violating NEPA and the Study Act. The Montana Wilderness Association intervened as a defendant, and the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
    The district court granted the recreational groups' motion for summary judgment and denied the Service's cross-motion. The district court concluded that the Service failed to comply with NEPA by adopting a final decision that "fell outside the range of alternatives [considered in the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS)] and made numerous, significant changes to the DEIS" without preparing a supplemental environmental impact statement as required by 40 C.F.R. § 1502.9(c), which states that "[a]gencies . . . [s]hall prepare supplements to either draft or final environmental impact statements if . . . [t]he agency makes substantial changes in the proposed action that are relevant to environmental concerns." The district court concluded that the final decision departed from the range of alternatives discussed in the DEIS in four areas.

    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Land, #Transport, #CA9]