July 17, 2012

U.S. Forest Service closes vast portion of Tahoe Nat'l Forest to public; PLF fights back

By U.S. Forest Service closes vast portion of Tahoe Nat'l Forest to public; PLF fights back

On September 21, 2010, the United States Forest Service released this letter to the American public, announcing the completion of Tahoe National Forest Motorized Travel Management Project and the implementation of the Forest Service’s 2005 Travel Management Rule.

According to the Forest Service’s letter, the agency’s implementation of the Travel Management Rule had resulted in a decision that achieved “the best balance between providing motorized recreation access and opportunities and protecting critical natural and cultural resources.”  For the thousands of Californians who use motor vehicles at the Tahoe National Forest, the Forest Service’s decision would “ensur[e] public motorized access to recreation opportunities across the Tahoe National Forest” through the addition of 60 miles of roads and trails to the National Forest Transportation System.  Adding recreational opportunities at the Tahoe National Forest–who could be against that???

What the Forest Service didn’t say in its letter is that more than 800 miles of roads and trails would not be added to the Forest Transportation System, that its decision would prohibit motor vehicle access to these roads and trails, and that as a result a vast portion of the Tahoe National Forest would now be effectively inaccessible due to motorized use restrictions.  Rather than a balanced decision that ensured motorized recreational access at the Tahoe National Forest, the Forest Service instead closed more than 90% of non-National Forest Transportation System roads and trails to motorized use.

Thus began a deceptive forest management decision that lulled the public into thinking that nothing was amiss at the Tahoe National Forest.  That deception has worked for two years, but it stops now.

Today, Pacific Legal Foundation attorneys filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service, its parent department the United States Department of Agriculture, and other USFS and USDA officials responsible for the Forest Service’s flawed implementation of the 2005 Travel Management Rule.

In this case, titled Friends of Tahoe Forest Access v. U.S. Dep’t of Agriculture, PLF attorneys represent a broad coalition of individuals and motorized recreation organizations who attempted to work with the Forest Service throughout the decisionmaking process.  When it became clear that the agency wasn’t interested in preserving motorized recreation at the Tahoe National Forest, they turned to PLF for assistance.

Given the less than forthright manner in which the Forest Service informed the public about Travel Management at the Tahoe National Forest, today’s lawsuit challenges the agency’s failure to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, a powerful federal statute that demands honesty and candor in environmental decisionmaking.  In our lawsuit, we ask the federal court to invalidate the Forest Service’s misleading Travel Management documents, and to order the Forest Service to redo implementation of the Travel Management Rule in a manner that is fair to and protective of all those who have a recreational interest in the Tahoe National Forest.

There will be more about this lawsuit in the days and weeks to come.  In the meantime, here is a video with more about our clients and the ordeal they’ve gone through with the Forest Service:

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