MSLF announces first win in Rio Grande National Forest case
Republished with permission from Mountain State Legal Foundation
Mountain States Legal Foundation continues to rack up victories early in 2023 for our determined clients. In the latest good news, the San Luis Valley Ecosystem Council and other petitioners have agreed to dismiss several of their challenges to the revised forest plan for the Rio Grande National Forest. While several claims remain, this settlement represents a significant win for our clients: the Trails Preservation Alliance, the Colorado Snowmobile Association, and other forest riders.
In 2014, the Rio Grande National Forest was among the first public lands to undergo a forest plan revision under new forest planning rules. Those rules implement the Forest Service’s longstanding “multiple use mandate,” which says that national forest lands must be used not only for conservation, but also recreation and productive uses like grazing, timber and energy development. Years of meetings, assessments, analysis, and public comment yielded a thousand-page document in 2020, which outlined the new multiple-use plan for Rio Grande.
But the environmental extremists were not satisfied with the new plan, in part because they feared it might prove too tolerant of our clients, who are recreationists who love exploring these scenic lands on designated motorized trail routes. They sued the Forest Service in a desperate attempt to prolong the forest planning process, delaying important projects that could develop under the new revised plan.
They argued that the Forest Service had violated the law by failing to include sufficient restrictions on winter recreation as part of the revised forest plan. The trail riders represented by MSLF, by contrast, take the position that the plans for sustainable management of winter recreation opportunities could lawfully be developed in a subsequent process, rather than putting the entire forest plan on hold for years.
The environmentalists have now totally abandoned their winter recreation claims, in exchange for a promise from the Forest Service to do exactly what Mountain States’ clients said the Forest Service should do: conduct a separate travel management planning process that doesn’t hold up the entire plan.
We look forward to the remaining claims being resolved. Environmentalists have argued that the new plan does not contain enough protections for the Canada lynx and Uncompahgre fritillary butterfly. But these arguments fly in the face of years of scientific research and collaboration with the public. Mountain States made this case in a briefing last year, and those claims and arguments now await a ruling from the court.
The reality is that radical environmentalist groups want to end the multiple-use mandate. For them, enjoyment and productive use by the public must give way to their environmental objectives, regardless of how it impacts average Americans. That’s why Mountain States intervened in the case: to defend the Forest Service’s compliance with its multiple-use mandate. The same mandate that protects the rights of trail riders who use forests recreationally also protects the rights of the ranchers, miners, and loggers who use them productively.
Senior Attorney Joe Bingham, lead counsel for the trail riders, said, “We are very pleased to see the petitioners throw in the towel on these frivolous claims. We look forward to winning this case for our clients and the principle that public lands should be enjoyed by all of the public.”