The Service’s action came through its implementation of the 2005 Travel Management Rule for the Tahoe National Forest.
PLF argues the Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to adequately analyze the human impacts of prohibiting access to formerly accessible trails, failing to conduct a site-specific analysis of the routes at issue, and improperly prejudicing off-road recreation in developing the purpose and need for the regulatory decision.
…ON THE OTHER SIDE:
PUBLIC LANDS ADVOCATES ACT TO DEFEND TAHOE NATIONAL FOREST
Forest could lose new protections from off-road vehicle damage
October 3, 2012
Sacramento, CA — Conservation and recreation groups took legal action today to uphold a U.S. Forest Service plan that keeps motor vehicles out of sensitive natural areas in the Tahoe National Forest of northern California. The groups filed a motion to intervene in a federal lawsuit brought by off-road-vehicle users opposed to limits on cross-country driving. In defending the Forest Service, the advocates for public lands argue that requiring motor vehicles to use designated roads and trails is crucial to protecting the forest from further environmental damage.
“We already know that off-road vehicles destroy the vegetation, compact the soil, erode the stream beds, and threaten the wildlife in sensitive areas of the Tahoe National Forest,” said attorney Christopher Hudak of the public interest law firm Earthjustice. “Now that the Forest Service has taken steps to reduce the damage, we want to make sure these basic protections remain in place.”
Like most national forests, the Tahoe National Forest in the Sierra Nevada was left open to off-highway vehicles (OHVs) for decades. Located near urban areas and popular with OHV users, the Tahoe National Forest is crisscrossed by almost 3,700 miles of roads and trails. Many routes were neither planned nor engineered, but instead were created over time by repeated cross-country vehicle use.
In an effort to prevent further damage caused by the off-road vehicles, the U. S. Forest Service (USFS) issued a Travel Management Rule in 2005 authorizing individual forest supervisors to end unlimited cross-country driving and designate which roads, trails, and play areas would remain open to OHVs. In September 2010, the Tahoe National Forest approved a final travel management plan and environmental impact statement that provided about 2,000 miles of roads, 385 miles of trails, and 244 acres of play areas open to motor vehicles. In July 2012 several off-road clubs sued USFS to overturn this management plan and to keep all existing user-created trails open to traffic.
But many forest advocates, like Karen Schambach of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, defended the plan and said access would continue for most visitors. “The majority of the routes not designated for continued use were not suitable for vehicles other than dirt bikes or the highest-clearance 4-wheel drive vehicles, so very few people were actually losing access, because they didn’t have access to begin with,” said Schambach. “Since limited maintenance funds are available, the greater public would be served by a scaled-down but better maintained road and trail system. And resources like water and wildlife habitat would really benefit.”
“Everyone has the right to enjoy our public lands, but with that right comes the duty to preserve these natural resources for others to enjoy,” said Don Rivenes with the Forest Issues Group and the Sierra Foothills Audubon Society. “The Forest Service has already given up more than enough of our wild lands to off-road vehicles, and we must call a halt to further destruction of the environment.”
The impact of off-road traffic is felt far beyond the borders of the national forest. When motorbikes and all-terrain vehicles carve ruts in hillsides, erosion is inevitable. Heavy rains wash sediment into streams and rivers, destroying habitat for fish and animals. Those critical waterways provide the chief source of drinking water not just for wildlife, but also for millions of Californians. “The Tahoe National Forest is big enough for everyone, including people who enjoy quiet recreation activities like hiking, hunting, fishing, camping and horseback riding. Striking a balance means setting reasonable limits and protecting the forest for current and future generations,” said Barbara Rivenes of the Sierra Club.
The motion to intervene was filed by Earthjustice in U.S. District Court in the Eastern California District. Earthjustice is representing The Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Forest Issues Group, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, and Sierra Foothills Audubon Society.
BASIS FOR THE LAWSUIT - FROM THE OTHER SIDE
Tuesday Jul 17 2012 article from the Auburn Journal Newspaper
Planned trail closures cause for lawsuit against US Forest Service
Motor sports enthusiasts feel misled by decision to padlock the forest
Multiple groups of motor sports enthusiasts and individual riders are suing the US Forest Service and Department of Agriculture over preparations to close more than 800 miles of trails to off-road vehicles in the Tahoe National Forest.
The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by Brandon Middleton, an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, for six local motor sports organizations and two individual enthusiasts.
The six organizations are Friends of Greenhorn, of Auburn; Friends of Tahoe Forest Access, Webilt Four Wheel Drive Club, Nevada County Woods Riders, Grass Valley 4-Wheel Drive Club and High Sierra Motorcycle Club. The two individual plaintiffs are David Wood, of Nevada County, and another Nevada County woman only identified as "Kyra" in a complaint.
"Off-road vehicle enthusiasts have been undeservedly attacked by environmental groups who paint a picture to their members that simply doesn't exist on the scale they assert," said Jacquelyne Theisen, of Auburn, with Friends of Greenhorn.
The US Forest Service declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday morning. It is listed as a defendant along with the US Department of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Regional Forester for the Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Region Randy Moore, and Forest Supervisor at the Tahoe National Forest Tom Quinn.
Pacific Legal Foundation gathered members of the represented organizations and concerned riders together at the American River Canyon Overlook Park in Auburn on Tuesday.
Jason Smith, of Foresthill, brought his white 2005 Dodge Power Wagon to the congregation and his 5-year-old daughter, Taylor, who was toting a sign reading "Don't Padlock the Forest."
"We moved here from the Bay Area just so we could recreate in the forest and now they're shutting it down," Smith said.
The lawsuit asks that conclusions regarding the Forest Service's 2005 Tahoe National Forest Motorized Travel Management Project be stuck down because it violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.
According to the complaint, the project set out to designate a system of roads and trails for motor vehicles within the Tahoe National Forest with the help of those in the public who were interested. The impact of motor vehicle use on soil, water, vegetation and wildlife was considered.
Bob Anderson, chairman of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, said his organization had not discussed the matter of off-road vehicles in the Tahoe National Forest and therefore had no comment on the lawsuit.
In the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for the Tahoe National Forest Motorized Travel Management Project, around 50 miles of formerly accessible trails were left open for use. The complaint states that under the project more than 800 miles of roads and trails will be closed to off-road motor vehicles that were previously available for use and that those enthusiasts who came forward to help with the project were misled into thinking more trails would be made available.
"It is completely lawful and legitimate for off-road vehicles to use those trails and to suggest otherwise in these documents is completely disingenuous," Middleton said.
The complaint goes on to state that the Forest Service came up with a list of alternative choices pertaining to the trails and roads in the Tahoe National Forest. By not adequately considering all of the alternatives, none of which allowed for more than 85 miles of trail accessibility for off-road vehicles, the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, according to the complaint.
The alternative that allowed for the greatest amount of mileage availability for off-road vehicles was rejected because of "potential adverse impacts on air quality and watershed conditions," according to the complaint. It was later found that the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision stated all of the alternatives would have had similar environmental impacts, therefore violating the Administrative Procedure Act, according to the complaint....
Dave Moser, of the Shenandoah Valley, said he has followed the Travel Management Project from the beginning and was misled into thinking it would have a positive impact on trail access. Now he said the new closures will create fragmented trails throughout the Tahoe National Forest that will prevent himself and others from getting to certain areas.
"It's appalling, the restrictions they want to put in place, when I thought participating in this would create a balance," Moser said.
The lawsuit asks that the Forest Service be required to restart the process of implementing the Tahoe National Forest Motorized Travel Management Project so that all trails and roads that are now open to off-road motor vehicles stay open.
Even if the lawsuit fails and trails close, Sean Tait, manager at Auburn Extreme Power Sports, said people will most likely find a way to continue to enjoy the outdoors.
"Dirt bike riders will find a place to ride somewhere. They can't take the trails away from us and not expect us to ride anything," Tait said.