September 28, 2017

Still fighting to keep public lands open to all

By Oliver J. Dunford Attorney

Yesterday, we filed our reply brief in Granat v. USDA, where we ask the court to review the U.S. Forest Service’s decision to close thousands of previously available roads and trails to motorized travel in Plumas National Forest. Federal law requires the Forest Service, before deciding about road-closings in national forests, to consider meaningful alternatives and to coordinate with local governments. As we explained in our opening brief, however, the Service’s “alternative” analysis failed to consider more than 700 of the then-existing 1,100 miles of roads and trails in Plumas. Further, the Service’s idea of “coordination” with our clients Plumas and Butte Counties was—as the Service itself acknowledged—nothing more than allowing the counties to participate in “public-involvement opportunities.”

Ultimately, the Service argues that its discretionary authority to shut down access to a public forest trumps all other concerns. The court should reject the Service’s straw-man argument. We have never disputed that the Service enjoys discretion. What we argue—and what the law requires—is that the Service’s discretion includes the obligations to consider meaningful alternatives and to coordinate with the local counties. In other words, the Service’s discretion does not include the authority to evade its legal obligations. We hope the court sees through the Service’s argument.

Please check out our case page here, and our previous blog posts on this case herehere, and here.

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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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