Planned trail closures cause for lawsuit against US Forest Service

Motor sports enthusiasts feel misled by decision to ?padlock the forest?
By: Amber Marra, Journal Staff Writer
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Multiple groups of motor sports enthusiasts and individual riders are suing the US Forest Service and Department of Agriculture over preparations to close more than 800 miles of trails to off-road vehicles in the Tahoe National Forest.

The lawsuit was filed on Tuesday by Brandon Middleton, an attorney with Pacific Legal Foundation, for six local motor sports organizations and two individual enthusiasts.

The six organizations are Friends of Greenhorn, of Auburn; Friends of Tahoe Forest Access, Webilt Four Wheel Drive Club, Nevada County Woods Riders, Grass Valley 4-Wheel Drive Club and High Sierra Motorcycle Club. The two individual plaintiffs are David Wood, of Nevada County, and another Nevada County woman only identified as "Kyra" in a complaint.

"Off-road vehicle enthusiasts have been undeservedly attacked by environmental groups who paint a picture to their members that simply doesn't exist on the scale they assert," said Jacquelyne Theisen, of Auburn, with Friends of Greenhorn.

The US Forest Service declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday morning. It is listed as a defendant along with the US Department of Agriculture, Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, US Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell, Regional Forester for the Forest Service's Pacific Southwest Region Randy Moore, and Forest Supervisor at the Tahoe National Forest Tom Quinn.

Pacific Legal Foundation gathered members of the represented organizations and concerned riders together at the American River Canyon Overlook Park in Auburn on Tuesday.

Jason Smith, of Foresthill, brought his white 2005 Dodge Power Wagon to the congregation and his 5-year-old daughter, Taylor, who was toting a sign reading "Don't Padlock the Forest."

"We moved here from the Bay Area just so we could recreate in the forest and now they're shutting it down," Smith said.

The lawsuit asks that conclusions regarding the Forest Service's 2005 Tahoe National Forest Motorized Travel Management Project be stuck down because it violates the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act.

According to the complaint, the project set out to designate a system of roads and trails for motor vehicles within the Tahoe National Forest with the help of those in the public who were interested. The impact of motor vehicle use on soil, water, vegetation and wildlife was considered.

Bob Anderson, chairman of the Tahoe Area Sierra Club, said his organization had not discussed the matter of off-road vehicles in the Tahoe National Forest and therefore had no comment on the lawsuit.

In the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision for the Tahoe National Forest Motorized Travel Management Project, around 50 miles of formerly accessible trails were left open for use. The complaint states that under the project more than 800 miles of roads and trails will be closed to off-road motor vehicles that were previously available for use and that those enthusiasts who came forward to help with the project were misled into thinking more trails would be made available.

"It is completely lawful and legitimate for off-road vehicles to use those trails and to suggest otherwise in these documents is completely disingenuous," Middleton said.

The complaint goes on to state that the Forest Service came up with a list of alternative choices pertaining to the trails and roads in the Tahoe National Forest. By not adequately considering all of the alternatives, none of which allowed for more than 85 miles of trail accessibility for off-road vehicles, the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, according to the complaint.

The alternative that allowed for the greatest amount of mileage availability for off-road vehicles was rejected because of "potential adverse impacts on air quality and watershed conditions," according to the complaint. It was later found that the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision stated all of the alternatives would have had similar environmental impacts, therefore violating the Administrative Procedure Act, according to the complaint.

Dave Moser, of the Shenandoah Valley, said he has followed the Travel Management Project from the beginning and was misled into thinking it would have a positive impact on trail access. Now he said the new closures will create fragmented trails throughout the Tahoe National Forest that will prevent himself and others from getting to certain areas.

"It's appalling, the restrictions they want to put in place, when I thought participating in this would create a balance," Moser said.

The lawsuit asks that the Forest Service be required to restart the process of implementing the Tahoe National Forest Motorized Travel Management Project so that all trails and roads that are now open to off-road motor vehicles stay open.

Even if the lawsuit fails and trails close, Sean Tait, manager at Auburn Extreme Power Sports, said people will most likely find a way to continue to enjoy the outdoors.

"Dirt bike riders will find a place to ride somewhere. They can't take the trails away from us and not expect us to ride anything," Tait said.

Contact Amber Marra at Follow her on Twitter @Amber_AJNews.