POCATELLO, Idaho (CN) – Environmentalists sued the U.S. Forest Service to keep a proposed 7.8-mile ATV trail out of a wild, roadless area of the Caribou-Targhee National Forest, south of Jackson Hole, near the Idaho-Wyoming border.
The proposed Winschell Dugway Trail System on 7,700 acres of National Forest land lies entirely within the Caribou City Roadless Area, next to the Caribou Mountain Recommended Wilderness area, the Greater Yellowstone Coalition says in its federal complaint.
The trail would link Caribou city to Morgan Meadows, in southeast Idaho, according to a Forest Service website.
The Caribou-Targhee National Forest covers 3 million acres in southeast Idaho, northwest Wyoming and southwest Montana, near the Teton Range, Jackson Hole and Yellowstone National Park.
The Forest Service wants to open the trails to four-wheel off-road vehicles.
The Coalition says the Forest Service initially had it right when it concluded in its 2005 Revised Caribou Travel Plan that the “Winschell Dugway would not be managed as a system trail allowing motorized use ‘due to construction and maintenance concerns.'”
In April 2007, “defendant prepared a notice of intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the proposed Winschell Dugway Trail System. The USFS determined that the EIS was required given potential effects to the Caribou City Inventories Roadless Area, effects to heritage resources, water quality and soil stability,” according to the complaint.
However, “Without explanation, the USFS changed positions in July 2007, stating in its quarterly schedule of proposed actions that it would prepare an Environmental Assessment (EA) for the project, rather than an EIS,” the coalition says.
The Forest Service issued a Decision Notice on April 13, 2011, announcing a Finding of No Significant Impact (DN/FONSI). The coalition appealed and won, reversing the DN/FONSI until the district ranger could “more clearly show in the DN/FONSI how the project is consistent with the Forest Plan,” according to the complaint.
Early this year the Forest Service issued an updated environmental assessment and a new DN/FONSI with an alternative trail plan, which included construction and reconstruction of 7.8 miles of ATV trail, improvement of 3.7 miles of non-motorized trail and relocation of 1.2 miles of motorized trail.
The coalition claimed the new plan was “essentially” identical to the original, and appealed again.
That appeal was denied, though the district ranger was ordered not to proceed with “ground-disturbing” activities until the final location of the trail was identified.
“Once the trail is laid out, I recommend the District Ranger conduct and document an interdisciplinary team sufficiency review of this final location to determine whether it changes the effects disclosed for alternative two by the updated final EA for the project,” the appeal official wrote.
The coalition says the Forest Service failed to seek public input and inadequately studied the environmental impacts. The appeal decision, they say, constitutes a final administrative determination, which is subject to judicial review.
“The enforcement of road closures is an ongoing issue,” the complaint states. “Recently, users have ‘pioneered’ new, non-system routes in the Caribou City area. Additionally, a user-created trail segment in the southern portion of the Winschell Dugway created a several-foot-deep gully near Tincup Creek. The gully is a direct result of poor drainage from the user-created segment.”
The coalition claims the Forest Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Forest Management Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. They want the project enjoined until the Forest Service can show it complied with the laws.
The Greater Yellowstone Coalition is represented by house counsel Andrea Santarsiere, of Idaho Falls.