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WildEarth Guardians v. Montana Snowmobile Ass'n

ELR Citation: 45 ELR 20117
Nos. 12-35434, (9th Cir., 06/22/2015)

The Ninth Circuit held that the U.S. Forest Service violated NEPA and other environmental safeguards when it designated over 2 million acres of public land within the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest for use by snowmobiles and other winter motorized vehicles. In 2009, the Forest Service issued a record of decision (ROD) and adopted the Beaverhead-Deerlodge revised forest plan that, compared to previous plans, decreased areas open to snowmobiles. In 2010, it issued a second ROD implementing the travel management decisions set forth in the revised forest plan. Environmental groups challenged the ROD as well as the accompanying EIS, but a district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Forest Service. The appellate court, however, reversed and remanded in part. Although the EIS sufficiently analyzed the conflicts between snowmobiles and other recreational uses in the revised forest plan, it failed to provide the public with adequate access to information about the impact of snowmobiles on big game wildlife and habitat, and it did not allow the public to play a role in the decisionmaking process. Nor did the Forest Service adequately apply the "minimization criteria" set forth in the USDA's travel management rule. On remand, the Service must provide a more granular minimization analysis to fulfill the objectives of Executive Order No. 11644, which the travel management rule was designed to implement. The lower court, however, correctly dismissed the groups' claim challenging the validity of an exception to the travel management rule that exempts over-snow vehicles from compliance with the minimization criteria. That claim is not ripe for review because the Forest Service did not apply the exemption to justify its actions in this case.