BRC Idaho Legal Action Update

Sawtooth National Forest
The 2008 travel plan for the Minidoka Ranger District of the Sawtooth National Forest closed many popular ATV routes, single track trails and, sadly, many hundreds of campsites. On August 29, 2008, The Wilderness Society and Prairie Falcon Audubon, Inc. marched into federal court and demanded that the USFS close even more.  The Magic Valley Trail Machine Association, Idaho Recreation Council and BRC moved to intervene.

The Wilderness Society and other plaintiffs successfully opposed our involvement using a rule unique to the 9th Circuit called the "federal defendant rule."  This rule maintains nonfederal parties do not have any interests that allow them to intervene in defense of government action in environmental suits.  We appealed this decision denying our intervention.

The Recreational Groups, led by Paul Turcke, BRC's lead counsel, argued their appeal in March this year.  Many have questioned the logic of the "federal defendant rule" including timber interests, counties, contractor and building associations, and even preservation groups.  However, no one has been able to get the 9th Circuit to take a "hard look" at the logic of its rule - until now.

After argument, the 3-judge panel asked the parties to brief the question of whether the Circuit "should abandon the Federal Defendant Rule." We did so, and in September, the Chief Judge of the Court signed an order stating a majority of active, nonrecused 9th Circuit judges have voted in favor of hearing the case "en banc" or "full bench."  This means a twelve-judge panel with the ability to rewrite the law and the Federal Defendant rule will rehear argument from the lawyers for the Recreation Groups and The Wilderness Society.  The en banc hearing will take place in December this year.

In the meantime, the district court case remains pending, as it has since we filed our appeal.  Much to the chagrin of the anti-access forces, you have been able to ride these trails as the legal wrangling continues.

Salmon Challis National Forest
The Salmon Challis travel plan was years in the making.  Pro-access forces participated, including joint legal review and comments by MIC, SVIA and BRC, with the aid of many state and local clubs.  You probably know the outcome - a final decision that closed hundred of miles of trails. To be specific, the final decision authorized 3,534 total miles of routes for motorized use, where previously at least 6,720 miles of existing routes were recognized.

You'd think Idaho's so-called "conservation community" would be pleased by this roughly 47 percent reduction. But it is never enough for Idaho's formerly moderate (at least compared to other states) Wilderness advocates.  Strong-armed by ideological purists, they filed suit, complaining about the failure to "minimize" OHV impacts, and seeking to create a new weapon out of "subpart A" of the Travel Management Rule which they claim was ignored in the Salmon Challis travel plan.

"Subpart A" is direction in the USFS regulations to minimize its road system. The term "minimize" is to be taken in context with the agency's mandates, including to provide recreation. Apparently, the Wilderness Society is attempting to have a court define the term "minimize" in their favor, potentially impacting all Forest Service travel plans, everywhere.

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