The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) was intended to protect the human environment, not to keep humans out of the environment. Yet that is exactly how the United States Forest Service is using NEPA – to keep people away from forests. The Service is closing forest access to those among us who are unable to hike countless miles before reaching their favorite spots. Ostensibly sheltered under the umbrella of environmental impact statements running into the thousands of pages, the Forest Service is closing vast numbers of forest access roads to motorized travel. Those roads have been used to access the forest by motor vehicles for decades. In closing them, the Forest Service has relegated the pleasures of the forest to only the most able-bodied among us. It’s wrong, and it’s illegal.
That’s why several months ago PLF sued the Forest Service for closing hundreds of formerly legal routes to motorized vehicles in California’s splendid Tahoe National Forest. PLF filed the action to have the closed routes reopened, so that people of average strength are not denied access to forest spots that they and their families have enjoyed for generations. Rather than keeping people out of the environment, PLF is using NEPA on behalf of its clients to reopen the forest to people.
Although the federal trial court ruled against PLF, we filed our notice of appeal in the Ninth Circuit last week, and we aim to hold the Forest Service’s feet to the fire, because the Service should not be allowed to deny access to forest lands by using NEPA to create an impenetrable wall between the forest and humans. Rather, the Service should be using NEPA to encourage people to come in and enjoy all that the forest has to offer. That’s what Congress meant when it said that NEPA was intended to protect the human environment.