A July 30 ruling by Senior U.S. District Judge Lawrence K. Karlton on motorized vehicle access to routes in Eldorado National Forest drew mixed reviews from defendants and plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs in the case were the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Forest Issues Group.
Karen Schambach, who is president of the Center for Sierra Nevada Conservation, said the lawsuit was brought because the Forest Service’s initial Forest Plan prohibited motorized vehicles from using routes that crossed meadows, yet its subsequent Travel Management Plan allowed for it. The lawsuit was brought to prohibit travel by motorized vehicles on 135 miles of routes that cross meadows.
“Meadows are very sensitive habitat and very, very sensitive for wildlife,” she said.
An interim ruling by Judge Karlton had previously prohibited use of these 135 miles of road. The ruling last week restored access for motorized vehicles on 46 of the 135 miles while the other 89 miles remain closed. He also ordered the Forest Service to do a study to address Endangered Species Act procedures on the 42 routes that have a meadow crossing.
According to the Forest Service, the new ruling means that some routes will have prohibited use near the meadows and some will need to be restricted near the beginning of the route. The locations are dependent on where vehicles can turn around safely.
Defendants in the lawsuit included the U.S. Forest Service and organizations representing off-road vehicle users, including one called the BlueRibbon Coalition.
Paul Turcke, an Idaho-based lawyer representing the BlueRibbon Coalition, said the basis of the lawsuit had more to do with a procedural failure on the part of the Forest Service than a finding of adverse use from motorized vehicles. In last week’s ruling, Turcke said the court erred on the side of caution by requesting further studies.
Frank Mosbacher, who is the public affairs officer for the Eldorado National Forest office, said the court-ordered supplemental environmental impact statement should take about a year to produce. The analysis will only involve segments of routes that cross meadows.
“We are relieved to have this decision,” he said. “The scope and analysis required by the court are fairly narrow and we will work quickly to meet the court order.”
For more information, visit the Eldorado National Forest Website at fs.usda.gov/eldorado.
Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.