Citizens for Balanced Use v. McAllister

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Administrative Law
  • Date Filed: 12-01-2011
  • Case #: 09-36051; 09-36058; 09-36080
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge R. Fisher for the Court; Circuit Judges Gould and Paez
  • Full Text Opinion

Since the Study Act requires the Forest Service to maintain areas designated as “study areas” in their 1977 wilderness character, the Service’s travel plan, which ignored the impact of increased volume from the use of motorized and mechanical vehicles on the current users’ ability to have solitude in an area designated as a “study area” under the Study Act, such a decision was arbitrary and capricious.

In 1977, Congress passed the Study Act (“Act”), which identified nine wilderness areas in Montana that were to be evaluated and gave direction to the Secretary of Agriculture to review the areas and advise Congress as to whether it should be designated as wilderness or removed from the study area status. Since the Act was passed, the Forest Service (“Service”) has had to maintain the areas in their 1977 wilderness character and potential for wilderness designation. In 2002, the Forest Service (“Service”) started preparing a travel plan for the Gallatin National Forest, an area covered by the Study Act that would balance travel and recreational uses with other management goals. The plan did not account for the increase in volume of the use of motorized and mechanical vehicles, and it was challenged by a coalition of environmental groups. The District Court concluded that the Service failed adequately to explain how the reconfiguration satisfied the Study Act’s mandate to maintain 1977 wilderness character in light of those increases in volume, rendering the decision arbitrary and capricious, and by asserting that the missing data was irrelevant, had violated its NEPA obligation. Citizens for Balanced Use, a group supporting the Service’s plan, appealed to the Ninth Circuit to determine whether the District Court’s decision was proper. The Ninth Circuit determined that since the Study Act requires the Service to maintain the study area’s 1977 wilderness character, the Service should have provided users with comparable solitude. Furthermore, since the Service did not try to account for the impacts of increased volume, it failed to consider an important aspect of its obligation under the Act, rendering the plan arbitrary and capricious. AFFIRMED.

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