Russell Country Sportsmen v. USFS

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: 10-12-2011
  • Case #: No. 10-35784
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Fisher for the Court; Circuit Judges Gould and Paez
  • Full Text Opinion

The Montana Wilderness Study Act of 1977 provides for a minimum standard for maintaining wilderness character. A final environmental impact statement will not violate the National Environmental Policy Act if the adopted plan falls within a range of alternatives and does not make any substantial changes.

The United States Forest Service (USFS) submitted an environmental impact statement revising the permitted use of motorized vehicles in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, including the Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area. Nine groups interested in motorized recreation claimed the revised plan violates the Montana Wilderness Study Act of 1977 (Study Act) and the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The district court granted the recreation groups summary judgment. On the NEPA claim the district court concluded the USFS adopted a plan “outside the range of alternatives” considered in the draft. On the Study Act claim the district court concluded that the Act prohibits USFS from enhancing the wilderness character in addition to prohibiting the degradation of the wilderness character. The Ninth Circuit disagreed with both the district court’s conclusions. The Court held that the district court relied on faulty data in reviewing the NEPA claim and the final decision did fall within the alternatives set forth in the draft environmental impact statement and did not contain any substantial changes. The Court also held the language in the Study Act did not prohibit enhancement of the wilderness area. The Court held the word “maintain” in the statute provided only a minimum standard, instead of both a minimum and a maximum standard that the district court applied. Accordingly the plan did not violate NEPA or the Study Act and the judgment of the district court is REVERSED.

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