November 30, 2015

Administrative records – too much and not enough

By Administrative records – too much and not enough

If you thought 23,000 pages would be sufficient to document a federal government action closing roads and trails in a national forest, you’d be wrong.  That’s the number of pages it took the Forest Service to “summarize” its action to close routes in California’s Plumas National Forest to off-roaders.  Most of the pages in that administrative record are useless.  Trouble is, the government neglected to include some of the most important information.  Over one-thousand comments were submitted by the public requesting that specific roads and trails be kept open for recreational, aesthetic, and safety purposes.  The comments were included in “green sheets” provided to the Forest Service by individuals who actually use the routes.  The majority of those routes were summarily closed by the Forest Service without any analysis of the impacts on the human environment, in violation of NEPA.

On behalf of off-roaders who have accessed Plumas National Forest for decades, PLF filed suit against the Forest Service to reopen the NEPA process.  Among other things, the Forest Service must properly analyze the human impacts of the closures.  The “green sheets” are nowhere to be found in the administrative record compiled by the government, but PLF’s clients, including Sierra Access Coalition and California Off-Road Vehicle Association, kept copies.  One of our first jobs is to ensure that the “green sheets” are added to the administrative record, so the court understands how the road closures are impacting the public.  Fortunately, the court has provided us with the time and the opportunity to accomplish that task.

“Let’s bury them in paper.”  That seems to be the government’s mantra these days when it is sued.  Administrative records are supposed to help the public understand the reasons for government actions.  But too often the government plays hide-and-seek behind a wall of documents.  That’s not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they sought to create a government answerable to informed citizens.  It’s one of the reasons PLF litigates against an ever expanding, overreaching bureaucracy.

More details regarding the lawsuit can be found at PLF’s landing page for the case, Granat v. United States Department of Agriculture.  

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Granat v. U.S. Department of Agriculture

Using the pretext of a transportation plan update, the U.S. Forest Service shut down thousands of previously accessible roads and trails—nearly 700 miles’ worth—within the Plumas National Forest. By forbidding any motor vehicle access, the policy prevents Amy Granat, who cannot walk unaided, from using a motorized vehicle to access vast areas of the forest. Granat and other recreational users of the forest challenged the Service’s cavalier decision to withhold national forest land from members of the public without justification. The Service failed to comply with federal environmental laws that require a searching investigation of the impacts of barring access. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court ruling which affirmed the Forest Service’s travel management rule.

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