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2005 NEPA Litigation Update

John F. Shepherd, Jenifer E. Scoggin, NEPA and Federal Land Development (2006)

a. The Silverton Snowmobile Club v. United States Forest Service, 2006 WL 62849 (10th Cir. Jan. 12, 2006).

Snowmobile groups challenged a decision by the Forest Service and BLM that reduced motorized access in the winter to an area north of Durango, Colorado called Molas Pass. Increased winter use of the area by both motorized and nonmotorized groups had led to conflicts between the two groups. This prompted the agencies to evaluate whether changes were necessary in the rules for winter recreational use of the area. After much public involvement, the Forest Service and BLM issued an EA and FONSI. In their decision, the agencies adopted a blend of alternatives that allowed motorized activity on most of the acreage previously open for that use, limited trail grooming activities, and prohibited nighttime motorized operations. Id. at 3.

The motorized recreation groups challenged the EA and FONSI claiming a violation of NEPA. The groups contended that the outcome was predetermined, that the agencies failed to take the requisite “hard look” at potential environmental impacts, and that the agencies should have prepared an EIS. Id. at 5. The Tenth Circuit upheld the EA and FONSI.

The court observed that the agencies were faced with a difficult task of trying to accommodate different groups of users who were reluctant to give up what they had become accustomed