Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Ark Initiative v. Tidwell

ELR Citation: 46 ELR 20049
Nos. 14-5259, (D.C. Cir., 03/08/2016)

The D.C. Circuit upheld the U.S. Forest Service's decision to exclude approximately 8,300 acres of federal land that fall within recreational ski boundaries from the Colorado roadless rule. The Service issued the rule in 2012, adopting state-specific standards for the designation and management of the inventoried roadless areas within Colorado's borders. The rule excluded from the 4.2 million acres of inventoried roadless land in Colorado approximately 8,300 acres of land that the Service had also designated for recreational skiing. The practical effect is to exempt that skiing acreage from the Service's ban against road building and timber cutting on roadless lands. Here, environmental groups challenged the Service's application of the rule to a proposed ski trail. The proposed trail is not a paved road, but a trail approximately 3,000 feet long and averaging 35 feet wide that would require some spot grading and tree and brush cutting to make it usable by skiers and emergency-response patrollers and to open part of it to grooming vehicles. The groups claimed the Service adopted the ski-area exclusion with reference to factors other than the on-the-ground, undeveloped condition of the 8,300 affected acres, thereby deviating from its own established policy without sufficient explanation. But the lower court and appellate court disagreed, concluding that the Service offered "ample reasons" for its decision to exclude existing designated ski areas from the Colorado roadless inventory: facilitating recreational use of the land; assisting Colorado's ski industry; reducing land-management conflicts and confusion for the ski industry; responding to a request by the state; removing degraded areas from the roadless inventory; and making only a minor impact on the state's overall roadless management. Nor did the Service deviate from its roadless policy. Despite the group's arguments to the contrary, the agency's Land Management Planning Handbook does not govern roadless inventorying as well as wilderness designation. Even if it did, the Handbook explicitly applies only to placement in the inventory of roadless or potential wilderness lands, not to the ongoing management of that inventory. And the Service's six-year public rulemaking process satisfied all applicable notice requirements.