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Beaverhead County Commissioners v. United States Forest Service

ELR Citation: 43 ELR 20164
Nos. 1O-68-BU-SEH, (D. Mont., 07/22/2013) (Haddon, J.)

A district court held that the U.S. Forest Service complied with NEPA when it promulgated the land and resource management plan (LRMP) for the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest in Montana. The forest, the state's largest, covers 3.35 million acres and stretches over eight counties in southwestern Montana. Plaintiffs alleged that the Forest Service violated NEPA by failing to conduct an analysis before banning motorized uses from the recommended wilderness areas. But the record demonstrates that the Forest Service carefully considered and evaluated the potential environmental impacts of managing the recommended wilderness areas as non-motorized, and it did so in comprehensive fashion and in compliance with NEPA's requirements. Nor did the Forest Service violate NEPA by failing to conduct a supplemental EIS before adding approximately 21,000 acres to the recommended wilderness area. The additions to do not constitute a substantial departure from the draft EIS. Compared with the 322,000 acres allocated for recommended wilderness areas in the final EIS, the 21,000 acres in dispute comprise only a small portion of the overall acreage allocated for recommended wilderness. Last, the Forest Service did not violate NEPA by failing to conduct site-specific analysis of the wilderness areas it closed to motorized uses. The record clearly shows that the Forest Service sufficiently analyzed the effects of excluding motorized uses from the recommended wilderness areas without reaching the site-specific level. Plaintiffs also argued that the Forest Service failed to include Beaverhead County as a "cooperating agency" during the development of the revised LRMP in violation of NEPA, and that it violated the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act by failing to reassess the eligibility of Deadman Creek as a wild river, but the plaintiffs lacked standing on these issues.