(CN) - Two environmental groups lost their bid to keep vehicles out of a portion of the Hells Canyon Wilderness Area, because the 9th Circuit said they waited too long to sue.
The Hells Canyon Preservation Council and The Wilderness Society sued the Forest Service after it decided to allow motor vehicles on the Lord Flat Trail.
The trail is a man-made unpaved road that runs parallel to, and occasionally crosses into, the protected Hells Canyon area.
The Hells Canyon Wilderness spans 214,944 acres across the Oregon and Idaho border and has been protected by Congress since 1975.
The district court dismissed as time-barred the groups' claims that the Forest Service violated federal law by failing to keep the original map of the wilderness area and by failing to properly identify the area's boundaries.
The Portland, Ore.-based appellate panel agreed that those claims should have been filed within six years of the agency's final action, or the publication of the area's boundary description.
And the groups failed to show how a failure to keep the original map caused injury, the 9th Circuit added.
They fared no better on their bid to have vehicles banned from the Lord Flat Trail. Judge Jay Bybee said the environmentalists haven't identified "a discrete agency action that the Forest Service is required to take" (original emphasis). He said the government's slight altering of the boundary in 1989 to exclude the trail was not a violation of laws protecting the general area.
"Allowing plaintiffs' claim to proceed would invite us to compel the Forest Service to so something - adjust the western boundary to fit HCPC's preference - not clearly mandated in the [federal law]," Bybee wrote.
Judge Susan Graber disagreed on the vehicle ban, saying the majority failed to address the crux of the case: "whether the relevant portions of the road are located within the Wilderness area."
She argued that the Forest Service's decision to open the portions that originally crossed into protected land is a failure of the agency's "continuing obligation" to the protected area, and that such a failure is subject to judicial review.
Subscribe to Closing Arguments
Sign up for new weekly newsletter Closing Arguments to get the latest about ongoing trials, major litigation and hot cases and rulings in courthouses around the U.S. and the world.