Idaho State Snowmobile Association Files Lawsuit Against Sawtooth National Forest

News

Many snowmobilers, particularly those who ride in central Idaho around the Fairfield area, are not happy with the U.S. Forest Service plans for snowmobiling in that area.

As a result, the Idaho State Snowmobile Association has filed a lawsuit against the Sawtooth National Forest.

Here is the first part of the lawsuit and the attached PDF is the lawsuit in full.

Just in case you want some light reading.

COMPLAINT - 1 4833-4773-5947v1

Norman M. Semanko, ISB No. 4761

Bryce C. Jensen, ISB No. 10324

PARSONS BEHLE & LATIMER

800 W. Main Street, Suite 1300

Boise, ID 83702

Telephone: (208) 562-4900

Facsimile: (208) 562-4901

Email: NSemanko@parsonsbehle.com

BJensen@parsonsbehle.com

Attorneys for Plaintiff

Idaho State Snowmobile Association

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF IDAHO IDAHO STATE SNOWMOBILE ASSOCIATION,

Plaintiff,

v.

U.S. FOREST SERVICE; THE SAWTOOTH NATIONAL FOREST; JIM DEMAAGD, in his capacity as Acting Forest Supervisor for the Sawtooth National Forest; and MIKE DETTORI, in his capacity as District Ranger for the Fairfield Ranger District,

Defendants.

Case No. ____________

COMPLAINT

Plaintiff Idaho State Snowmobile Association (“Plaintiff” or “ISSA”), by and through its undersigned counsel of record, Parsons Behle & Latimer, and by way of complaint against Defendants the United States Forest Service, the Sawtooth National Forest, Jim DeMaagd (“DeMaagd”), and Mike Dettori (“Dettori”) (collectively, “Defendants”), hereby alleges and avers as follows.

Introduction

1. This action seeks declaratory and injunctive relief regarding the Over-snow Vehicle Travel Management in the Northern Portion of the Fairfield Ranger District Final Decision Notice and Finding of No Significant Impact and associated actions (the “Decision”) taken by Defendants. The Decision was issued on December 18, 2018.

2. The Decision prohibits snowmobile use on 85,266 acres of public land in the Fairfield Ranger District based on purported environmental concerns that find no basis in the record. Instead, the Decision admittedly “assumes” that snowmobiling in these closed areas will have adverse environmental impacts without any solid scientific evidence.

3. The Decision is arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”), fails to comply with the National Environmental Protection Act (“NEPA”), and violates the National Forest Management Act (“NFMA”).

Parties

4. Plaintiff ISSA is, and at all times relevant hereto was, a statewide organization representing 41 clubs including the Magic Valley Sno-Mobile Club, the Northside Snow Riders, the Idaho West Magic Lake Rec Club Dam Fools as well as numerous individuals and businesses throughout Idaho. ISSA members highly value and frequently utilize the opportunity to ride snowmobiles in the national forests, including the Sawtooth National Forest and the Fairfield Ranger District in particular.

5. Defendant United States Forest Service is a federal agency within the United States Department of Agriculture. The Forest Service is charged with administering and overseeing the United States National Forest System lands in accordance with applicable law.

6. Defendant Sawtooth National Forest is a subunit of the United States Forest Service within the agency’s Intermountain Region. The Sawtooth National Forest’s main office is in Jerome, Idaho, and the Fairfield Ranger District office is in Fairfield, Idaho.

7. At all times relevant hereto, Defendant DeMaagd was the Forest Supervisor of the Sawtooth National Forest. As the Forest Supervisor, DeMaagd is the ultimate authority for the procedures, actions, and decisions of the Forest and is charged with ensuring the Forest complies with applicable law. Forest Supervisor DeMaagd is sued solely in his official capacity.

8. At all times relevant hereto, Defendant Dettori was the District Ranger for the Fairfield Ranger District, which is a subunit of the Sawtooth National Forest. District Ranger Dettori signed the Decision and is responsible for interpreting and implementing the Decision’s prescriptions. District Ranger Dettori is sued solely in his official capacity.

Jurisdiction and Venue

9. This Court has subject matter jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

10. Venue is proper in this Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1391(e).

Background

11. The Fairfield Ranger District is a destination for a variety of winter recreation activities, including backcountry snowmobiling.

12. The Sawtooth National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan (the “Forest Plan”) specifically contemplates providing abundant access to backcountry snowmobilers. The Forest Plan states that its goals include providing “an array of winter recreation experiences, while mitigating conflicts between motorized and non-motorized use and wintering wildlife.” In addition, the Forest Plan’s specific objectives include providing “networks of marked and designated snow machine . . . routes and trailhead facilities” and “opportunities for backcountry winter recreation in areas without wintering wildlife conflicts.”

13. Since 1974, the Fairfield Ranger District, in cooperation with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game has managed wintertime motorized vehicle closures to protect wintering wildlife, primarily elk. Prior to the Decision, the winter closure area constituted a relatively narrow strip of land stretching from east to west starting near Couch Summit, continuing along the South Fork of the Boise River, and ending at the western edge of the Fairfield Ranger District, near the town of Featherville. Monitoring of elk in the closure area along the Little and Big Smoky Creeks suggests that elk are no longer wintering in the eastern portion of the closure area.

14. Aside from this narrow strip of land, practically all the public land within the Fairfield Ranger District was open to snowmobiling during the winter. However, the area north of the closure area was difficult to access during the winter due to the closure area acting as a legal barrier and the terrain to the east of the closure area acting as a physical barrier.

15. Numerous individuals own private land north of the closure area. During the winter, the only practicable way of accessing most of this private land is by traveling by snowmobile or other over-snow vehicles (“OSVs”) through the closure area on Forest Roads 094, 227, and 012, known as the Couch Summit to Fleck Summit corridor.

16. Even though motorized travel through the Couch Summit to Fleck Summit corridor would ordinarily be prohibited during the winter, federal law entitles these private landowners to access their property for “reasonable use.” Prior to the Decision, these private landowners could obtain permits for themselves and their guests to use snowmobiles and other OSVs to access their property during the winter via the Couch Summit to Fleck Summit corridor. As a result, these landowners and their permitted guests had practically unimpeded access to the public lands that lie north of the closure area.

17. According to the Decision, the Fairfield Ranger District received numerous requests to open the Couch Summit to Fleck Summit corridor for public snowmobile use during the winter so that all members of the public could access the land north of the closure area.

18. According to the Decision, “the recent changes in how elk are using the area, the need to address landowner and public access issues through the closure area, and the challenges of effectively managing a permit system prompted the review of OSV travel for this area.” Consequently, the Fairfield Ranger District initiated site-specific travel management planning for the area starting at the southern boundary of the closure area to the District’s northern border (the Analysis Area).

19. The Forest Service identified the following five needs that the travel plan was intended to address:

a. Provide access for private landowners to their properties;

b. Address the inequity of allowing private land owners access to the area north of the closure area, but not the public;

c. Provide opportunities for backcountry winter recreation in areas without winter wildlife conflicts;

d. Manage motorized travel and travel-related facilities that meets resource objectives and access needs; and

e. Provide winter habitat security for mountain goats and reproductive denning habitat security for wolverine in the headwaters area of the South Fork Boise River by minimizing disturbance from winter recreation activities.

20. After taking public comment, the Forest Service conducted an Environmental Assessment (EA), analyzing four alternative actions.

21. Under Alternative 1, the then existing closure policy would remain in place.

22. Under Alternative 2, the Forest Service would open the Couch Summit to Fleck Summit corridor for public OSV use during the winter, and the Forest Service would authorize 13.1 miles of new groomed snowmobile trail on the existing Forest Service roads. However, the Forest Service would close an additional 72,447 acres of public land in the northern portion of the Fairfield Ranger District to OSV use. Under this alternative, the permit system would be eliminated.

23. Under Alternative 3, the current closure area and permit system would remain in place. In addition, the Forest Service would expand the closure area to include all the public land north of the original closure area. Alternative 3 would prohibit both the private landowners and the general public from using OSVs on public land north of the closure area.

24. Under Alternative 4, the Forest Service would open the Couch Summit to Fleck Summit corridor for public OSV use during the winter and would authorize 13.1 miles of new groomed snowmobile trail on the existing Forest Service roads. Under this alternative, the permit system would be eliminated, and the public would still be able to access the public land north of the closure area.

25. The EA analyzed the predicted effects on elk, mountain goats, wolverine, lynx, and gray wolves under each proposed alternative action. Based on the analysis in the EA, District Ranger Dettori issued the Decision, adopting Alternative 2.

26. District Ranger Dettori rejected Alternative 4, because the EA incorrectly found Alternative 4 would likely have adverse effects on mountain goats, wolverine, and lynx. That finding was not based on reliable or high-quality scientific evidence.

27. A small population of mountain goats is known to exist on the north end of the Fairfield Ranger District. That area was open to snowmobiling prior to the Decision.

28. The EA concedes that “[i]n general, there is segregation between winter recreationists and winter mountain goats since recreationists do not tend to seek out rocky, rugged terrain and low snow conditions as sought out by mountain goats.” However, the EA concluded that there was still a “potential for interaction.” According to the EA this potential interaction could possibly have negative impacts on mountain goats, but the EA admits that the scientific literature is sparse regarding this issue.

29. Prior to the Decision, snowmobilers had been routinely accessing and utilizing the north end of the Fairfield Ranger District. In fact, while access to the north of end of the District was somewhat limited due to the existing closure area, the EA conceded the “ineffectiveness of the existing closure between Couch and Fleck Summits (due to the number of landowners and guests riding through).” Moreover, the EA noted that, prior to the Decision, “due to the close proximity of occupied wintering mountain goat habitat and areas known to be travelled by over-snow vehicles, some level of disturbance [was] likely.”

See the attached PDF for the entire lawsuit.

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