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Washington Trails Ass'n v. U.S. Forest Serv.

ELR Citation: 27 ELR 20180
Nos. C95-877R, 935 F. Supp. 1117/(W.D. Wash., 06/12/1996)

The court holds that the U.S. Forest Service violated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) by failing to perform an environmental assessment (EA) or environmental impact statement for its proposed reconstruction and relocation portions of two trails in Gifford Pinchot National Forest. Environmental groups challenged the U.S. Forest Service's determination that the project was categorically excluded from NEPA despite being located within an inventoried roadless area, because the presence of the inventoried roadless area was not an extraordinary circumstance "related to the proposed action." The court first holds that the Forest Service's interpretation of its categorical exclusion regulation does not accord with the regulation's plain language. Because the proposed project is located within an inventoried roadless area, there is a relationship between the presence of the inventoried roadless area and the proposed action. In such a situation, the Forest Service regulations indicate that at least an EA is required. The court next holds that the Forest Service acted arbitrarily in failing to consider the environmental impact of the trails project in conjunction with other proposed off-road vehicle trail developments in the area. The project's environmental significance cannot be accurately assessed unless the potential for increased use resulting from the cumulative impact of the projected network of off-road vehicle trails planned for the same area is carefully considered. The court then holds that the Forest Service must consider the impact of proposals for connecting trails on user allocation. Given the Forest Service's determination not to review user allocations with regard to specific trails when it developed its Forest Plan, and its concurrent promise to do site-specific analysis in the future, it cannot simply hark back to the proposed user allocation in the Forest Plan as a final decision. The court also holds that the Forest Service's failure to consider the significance of the impact of off-road vehicle use on mountain goat habitat, in light of the evidence supporting the premise that off-road vehicle use has a significant environmental impact on mountain goats, was arbitrary and capricious.

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Karl F. Forsgaard
Washington Trails Association
1305 4th Ave., Ste. 512, Seattle WA 98101
(206) 625-1367

Counsel for Defendants
Gregory T. Costello
Graham, James, Riddell & Williams
1001 4th Ave. Plaza, Ste. 4500, Seattle WA 98154
(206) 624-3600