WildEarth Guardians v. USFS

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Environmental Law
  • Date Filed: 06-22-2015
  • Case #: 12-35434
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Paez for the Court; Circuit Judges Kozinski and Berzon
  • Full Text Opinion

Environmental Impact Statements by the United States Forest Service must provide the public with adequate information about the impact of snowmobile uses on big game winter habitat, thus allowing the public to play a role in the decision making process as required by National Environmental Policy Act.

The United States Forest Service (“USFS”) released a Record of Decision (“ROD”) with specific designation for the Revised Forest Plan. WildEarth Guardians (“WildEarth”), challenge the USFS’s decision to designate over two million acres of public land in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest (“Forest”) for use by snowmobiles. WildEarth (and other groups) filed suit in the U.S. District court alleging that (1) the USFS’s review of the environmental impact statement (“EIS”) of snowmobiles on big game winter habitat; (2) other recreation activity under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”) were inadequate; (3) the USFS failed to comply with the minimization requirements of Executive Order 11644; and (4) that Subpart C of the 2005 Travel Management Rule (“TMR”), exempting over-snow vehicles, were invalid. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit Court reversed, in part, the district court’s grant of summary judgment. The panel held that the USFS’s review of the snowmobiles under the NEPA were inadequate because the public was not properly provided information about the impact of snowmobile uses on big game winter habitat. Therefore, the public was not allowed to play a role in the decision making process as required under the NEPA. Additionally, the panel reversed the district court’s grant of summary judgment that the USFS’s designation of area open to snowmobile use was in compliance with the minimization criteria in Executive Order 11644 and remanded for further proceeding. However, the panel affirmed the lower court’s ruling in that EIS sufficiently analyzed the conflict between snowmobiles and other recreational uses, since it was sufficient to establish the required “hard look” at the impact, and affirmed that WildEarth’s challenge to the Subpart C exemption is unripe. AFFIRMED in part, REVERSED in part, and REMANDED.

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