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.
For those who enjoy outdoor recreation, Northern California’s Plumas National Forest, in the Sierra Nevada range, offers streams, rivers, lakes, deep canyons, green valleys, meadows, and lofty peaks. In the more than 100 years that Plumas has been a national forest, countless recreationalists have camped, hiked, and explored its beautiful wilderness. In 2010, however, the Forest Service revised its “Travel Management Rule” to exclude thousands of roads and trails that had been used by the public for motorized traffic and recreational purposes for decades. And it did so by fiat.
Federal law does not permit the Forest Service to render hundreds of miles of roads and trails inaccessible without a good reason. But when it came to the Plumas closures, the Forest Service ignored the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires the government to conduct a site-specific analysis of the potential consequences to the environment and to humans—including economic impacts—prior to making changes in the rules.
A number of individuals and groups challenged this illegal lockout, including Amy Granat, a long-time camper who enjoys fishing and viewing wildlife despite having very limited ability to walk. She relies on motorized vehicles to access and experience the freedom and healing that the forest provides and she is the managing director of the California Off-Road Vehicle Association. PLF also represented the Sierra Access Coalition, directed by Corky Lazzarino, an association of more than 1,450 individuals, groups, and businesses that seek to preserve environmentally sound roads and trails for a variety of recreational, aesthetic, and commercial activities within the Plumas National Forest. Finally, PLF represented Plumas and Butte counties, which rely on the forest which straddles both counties, for tourism revenue and fees generated by logging roads and other commercial activities.
A federal district court affirmed the Forest Service’s travel management rule, a decision later upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.