Monday, December 5, 2011

Citizens for Balanced Use v. McAllister (U.S. Forest Service)

Dec 1: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 09-36051, 09-36058, & 09-36080. Appealed from the United States District Court for the District of Montana. A coalition of environmental groups (Montana Wilderness Association, et al., hereinafter MWA) challenges the 2006 Gallatin National Forest Travel Management Plan prepared by the United States Forest Service, arguing that the travel plan violates the Montana Wilderness Study Act of 1977 (Study Act). The Appeals Court ruled that the Study Act requires the Service to ensure that current users of a wilderness study area are able to enjoy the wilderness character of the area as it existed in 1977, pending a Congressional decision on whether to designate the area as wilderness.
    The Appeals Court said that, "In this case, the Service has not adequately explained how the 1977 wilderness character of the relevant study area, particularly the opportunities for solitude it offers, has been maintained despite an increase in the volume of motorized and mechanized recreation in the area. We therefore conclude that the Service's adoption of the travel plan was arbitrary and capricious, and accordingly affirm the district court's decision finding that the Service's actions violate the Administrative Procedure Act (APA)."
    The Appeals Court said, "In addressing § 1502.22, the Service noted that historical data tracking changes in the volume of recreational use within the study area could not be obtained, but concluded that such data were not necessary in any event. This conclusion was apparently based on the Service's faulty determination that it was not obligated to maintain the study area's 1977 wilderness character, including 1977 opportunities for solitude, for the benefit of current users. . . We therefore hold that the Service incorrectly determined that historical volume of use data are irrelevant for § 1502.22 purposes. . . On remand, the Service must acknowledge the relevance of the missing information and comply with § 1502.22(b)'s instructions for assessing reasonably foreseeable adverse impacts despite gaps in the relevant data."
    In conclusion, the Appeals Court said, "We hold that the travel plan improperly ignores the impact of increased volume of motorized and mechanized use on current users' ability to seek quiet and solitude in the study area. Because the Service entirely failed to consider this important aspect of its duty to maintain the study area's 1977 wilderness character, its decision is arbitrary and capricious. We affirm judgment in favor of MWA and against the Service and Citizens."

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