Thursday, September 27, 2012

Public Lands For The People, Inc. v. USDA

Sep 26: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 11-15007. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of California. The Appeals Court indicates in an overview of the case, "The Wild West has long conjured up images of prospectors with pack mules and pickaxes foraging for gold. The oft romanticized ways of the Wild West eventually modernized and gave way to prospecting with the aid of motor vehicles and heavy machinery." The United States Forest Service (the Forest Service), an arm of the Department of Agriculture (USDA), recently limited the use of motor vehicles to certain roads in the century-old Eldorado National Forest (ENF). Concerned about the impact of the limitation on their activities, a group of miners and prospectors challenged the Forest Service's decision. The district court dismissed the complaint, and the Appeals Court affirmed that decision.
    The Appeals Court provides some background on the case and indicates that Beginning in 2005, the Forest Service published a Notice of Intent to propose prohibitions on motor vehicle use in the ENF, held public meetings, and circulated for public comment a draft environmental impact statement on proposed travel management in the ENF. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS), issued in March 2008, recognized that if prohibitions on motor vehicle use were adopted, miners and prospectors would need to obtain permission, through a Notice of Intent or Plan of Operations, to use motor vehicles in areas where no such permission restriction existed before.
    The district court held that the Miners failed to establish standing and, alternatively, that they failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted because the Secretary of Agriculture had the authority to impose the road restrictions and reasonably interpreted a Forest Service regulation pertaining to "public roads."
    The Appeals Court concluded, "The Miners had standing to bring this suit. Still, the Forest Service acted within its authority when it prohibited cross country vehicle traffic and limited motor vehicle use to certain designated roads in the ENF. The 'public roads' provision in 36 C.F.R. § 228.4(a)(1) does not create an exception to the 2008 Decision because the roads on which motor vehicles were prohibited ceased to be 'public roads,' as reasonably defined by the Forest Service."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Land, #CA9]
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