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Wilderness Watch v. U.S. Forest Service

ELR Citation: 31 ELR 20167
Nos. CV 91-103-M-SRT, 143 F. Supp. 2d 1186/(D. Mont., 09/19/2000)

The court holds that the U.S. Forest Service violated the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA) and the Central Idaho Wilderness Act (CIWA) by allowing several permanent hunting and fishing lodges to be built along portions of the Salmon River in Idaho designated as "wild" under the WSRA. The court first holds that the construction of permanent resort lodges in river corridors designated as "wild" is inconsistent with the WRSA, which requires wild rivers to be administered so that they remain "essentially primitive." Given the statutory language and its historical context, the term is unambiguous. Even were the term "essentially primitive" ambiguous, the Forest Service's construction of this term as allowing permanent structures to be built in the area is impermissible. The lodges are not a continuation of prior permitted uses. Further, the fact that motor boats are allowed in the area does not render the area open for development. In addition, although hunting lodges may further the recreational value for which the Salmon River corridor was designated as wild, promoting the river's recreational values cannot detract from the WSRA's clear directive that the wild river segment remain essentially primitive. The court next holds that because the lodges' construction violated the Salmon River wild river plan, which was incorporated into the area's forest plan, the Forest Service violated the National Forest Management Act as well. The court also holds that although the final environmental impact statement for the lodges violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) insofar as the Forest Service proceeded from the assumption that they complied with the WSRA and the CIWA, the Forest Service did not violate NEPA in failing to discuss whether the lodges were in compliance with prior Forest Service permits issued at their original locations. Last, rather than ordering the permanent structures to be removed, the court remands the case so that the Forest Service can develop a remedy mindful of the interests of all parties involved.

The full text of this decision is available from ELR (52 pp., ELR Order No. L-284).

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Jack R. Tuholske
Law Offices of Jack R. Tuholske
P.O. Box 7458, Missoula MT 59807
(406) 721-2729

Counsel for Defendants
Lorraine Gallinger, Ass't U.S. Attorney
U.S. Attorney's Office
Western Federal S&L Bldg.
2929 Third Ave. N., Ste. 400, Billings MT 59101
(406) 657-6101