The U.S. Court of Appeals has dismissed a suit against the San Juan National Forest by a hunting group upset over motorized trails north of Dolores.
Opposition to single-track motorized trails in the Rico-West Dolores area became the basis for a 2010 lawsuit by the Colorado Chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers.
The group challenged 14 trails, saying their impacts weren’t analyzed as required under the National Environmental Policy Act
“Many single-track motorized trails in that section of forest land have never had NEPA compliant analysis, and that violates their own rules under the forest plan,” said Bob Marion, a local Forest Watchman for BHA.
U.S. District Court ruled in March 2013, that the USFS had documentation dating to 1999 designating the trails for motorized use.
BHA appealed, and the case was decided May 27.
The court said BHA was a victim of its own success.
In 2009, the Forest Service adopted a trail management plan that permitted ATVs and motorcycles on certain trails.
BHA challenged the plan and won on grounds that NEPA reviews were skipped. The Forest Service responded in 2010 with a temporary order that allowed motorcycles but banned ATVs, pending a more permanent policy, which is being drawn up as a Travel Management Plan.
The appeals court said that Backcountry got in its own way by trying to nullify the 2010 order as well.
Striking down the 2010 order would revert trail management to a 1992 plan supplemented in 1999, the court said.
“(That) order allows all sorts of vehicles on the trails in question,” wrote Circuit Judge Neil M. Gorsuch. “So a victory for Backcountry in this case would seem to do nothing to help – and perhaps much to hurt – its cause.”
Backcountry then asked the court to strike the 1992/1999 plan as well, but that isn’t valid, the court said, because the six-year statute of limitations on such a claim has passed.
Derek Padilla, district ranger for the Dolores District, said the court decision supports the 2010 temporary order.
A permanent Travel Management Plan for trail use in the Rico-West Dolores area is undergoing an Environmental Impact Statement that includes a public comment period.
“What we did was appropriate, and we were successful at district and appeals court,” Padilla said. “We are aware the group opposes motorized use there and will weigh the pros and cons of their use on various trails based on environmental and social perspectives.”
Marion said the group won’t appeal.
“It’s difficult because the decision was made on a technicality and not on the merits,” he said. “The case hinged on that the 1999 order did not follow NEPA, but the statute of limitations had expired.”