March 18, 2015

Americans to the U.S. Forest Service: don't shut us out of our national forests

By Americans to the U.S. Forest Service: don't shut us out of our national forests

In a democracy, there are few things more troublesome to the body politic (or to just plain folks) than bureaucrats who ingest large doses of self-importance while trying to expand their limited powers.  If it weren’t so dangerous, it’d be pitiful.

That’s what’s happening in Northern California at the Plumas National Forest, where the denizens of the National Forest Service have  closed thousands of roads and trails to motorized travel.  For generations, those routes had been open for citizens to lawfully access the natural beauty and recreational opportunities afforded by the forest.  Now they’ve been effectively padlocked.

The Forest Service says it is protecting the environment pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  But that’s not what’s happening here.  NEPA was intended to protect the human environment, not to keep humans out of the environment.  PLF’s video, which can be viewed at the end of this blog post, emphasizes the point.

In closing down vast areas of Plumas National Forest to motorized travel, the Forest Service violated not only NEPA but also the National Forest Management Act, the Administrative Procedure Act, and the Freedom of information Act.  When bureaucrats violate the law, freedom suffers.  They have to comply with the law, just like the rest of us.  That’s why today PLF filed a lawsuit challenging the action of the Forest Service in Plumas National Forest.

Our clients include individuals, recreational organizations, and local governments, which are all adversely impacted by the Forest Service’s action.  One of our clients is a disabled individual, who has been shut out of the forest because she can no longer access her favorite spots by motor vehicle.  The net effect of the Forest Service’s action is to make Plumas National Forest accessible only to the most able-bodied among us.  That’s not right, not fair, and not legal.

There is an overarching issue here.  The Forest Service is taking similar actions at the approximately 150 national forests located throughout the nation, which makes this an issue of concern to those living in every nook and cranny of the country within driving distance of a national forest.

The Forest Service cannot violate the law with impunity.  Even more broadly, federal administrative agencies must stay within the bounds of the law established by our elected officials.  Isn’t that how our government is supposed to work?  More details can be found on PLF’s home page highlighting this case.  Granat v. USDA.

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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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