Federal Judge Allows U.S. Forest Service To Modify Plan For Roads And Trails In Superior National Forest
MINNEAPOLIS—Late last week, United States District Court Judge Susan Richard Nelson
ruled that the U.S. Forest Service (“Forest Service”) may proceed with the Travel Management
Project (“TMP”) in the Superior National Forest in northeastern Minnesota. This project
implements the national Travel Management Rule for national forests. The TMP achieves
objectives in the Travel Management Rule and the Superior National Forest Plan by creating a
user map identifying routes open to motorized vehicles, decommissioning roads to benefit
natural and social resources, and developing longer-distance riding opportunities for all-terrain
vehicles. The TMP results in an overall net decrease in the total miles of roads on the forest.
Three environmental groups—the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the
Sierra Club, and Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness—had sued to stop implementation
of the project, arguing it violated federal law, including the National Environmental Policy Act,
the National Forest Management Act, the Wilderness Act, and the Endangered Species Act. On
April 12, 2012, the U.S. District Court rejected all of the plaintiffs’ claims, denying their
motion for summary judgment and granting summary judgment in favor of the Forest Service.
Under federal law, national forests must be managed for multiple uses, including motorized
recreation by the public. In keeping with these requirements, the Forest Service finalized the
TMP in 2009, following years of research by the agency and extensive opportunities for
comment by the public. The project resulted from careful environmental analysis by an interdisciplinary team of specialists. Based on their work, the Forest Service determined that
adjustments to some travel routes in the Superior National Forest would not significantly
impact the environment in a negative manner. TMP planners paid particular attention to the
Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (“BWCAW”), generally designating all-terrainvehicle
traffic to existing roadways further away from the wilderness that are already traveled
by cars and trucks. The TMP proposed no activity inside the BWCAW itself.
In their challenge, the three groups that opposed the TMP argued that more analysis was
needed. Specifically, they suggested that the environmental assessment completed for the TMP
was inadequate and a more extensive environmental impact statement was needed. The U.S.
District Court, however, found that no further analysis needed to be done for the TMP. It held
that the Forest Service considered a reasonable range of alternatives before making its final
travel route adjustments.
The U.S. District Court also rejected the groups’ claim that the Forest Service failed to
consult the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service appropriately before deciding that the TMP was not
likely to adversely affect the Canada Lynx or its critical habitat. Judge Nelson found that
sufficient consultation had occurred, and that all of the requirements of the Endangered Species
Act had been met.
The interests of the United States in this case were represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys
David W. Fuller and Ann M. Bildtsen.