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Ark Initiative v. Tidwell

ELR Citation: 44 ELR 20099
Nos. 13-5103, (D.C. Cir., 04/29/2014)

The D.C. Circuit affirmed the U.S. Forest Service's decision denying an emergency petition filed by an environmental group seeking “roadless” designation for roughly 1,000 acres on Burnt Mountain in Colorado's Snowmass ski area and suspension of the Aspen Skiing Company’s authorization to cut trees on that land. In 2012, the Forest Service issued a rule revising its inventory of protected roadless land in Colorado. The rule protected approximately 4.2 million acres of land, designating as roadless 409,500 acres that were not previously protected. But it also removed protection for 8,300 acres of land for ski area management. The group filed its emergency petition shortly after the rule was issued. When the Service denied the petition, the group filed suit, arguing that the Service failed to provide an adequate explanation. But the Forest Service's denial was neither unexplained, unreasonable, nor unduly brief, and its decision to point to the final rule’s rationale was appropriate, given that the rule had been promulgated just weeks earlier. Nor was the denial a major federal action subject to NEPA. In denying the emergency petition, the Service did not rely on a categorical rule that ski areas could never be designated as roadless. Rather, the Service refused to revisit a boundary purposefully drawn to exclude the Snowmass Ski Area in the final rule, and rejected the emergency petition as tardy and repetitive of an earlier, unsuccessful challenge. And the Forest Service’s refusal to suspend the skiing company’s 2006 project authorization was also reasonable in view of the denial of the petition.