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Judge Stalls Plans for |New Roads in 4 Forests

(CN) - The U.S. Forest Service failed to consider the overall affect of plans to allow road construction in wilderness areas in four national forests in Southern California, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled.

U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel said the Forest Service's environmental analysis violated the National Environmental Policy Act, "although not for all the reasons advanced by plaintiffs."

California and the Center for Biological Diversity claimed the Forest Service's proposal did not discuss the harmful affects of rezoning the once-roadless areas of wilderness in the Angeles, Cleveland, San Bernardino and Los Padres national forests.

Patel disagreed with this claim, saying the Forest Service provided "substantial analysis of issues concerning roadless areas and wilderness designations."

Patel instead took issue with the fact that the statement did not analyze the cumulative effect of plans to slate more than 942,000 acres of roadless areas for road construction, and it set aside only 79,000 acres as protected wilderness regions.

"If the larger picture is not addressed at this level, it never will be, because site-specific plans do not have the scope appropriate to review the holistic impacts of land use zoning and wilderness designation decisions on the individual forests as a whole," Judge Patel wrote.

The judge also disagreed with California's claim that the Forest Service "simply ignored the state's policy for roadless areas in California" in preparing the new forest management plans. The Forest Service insisted the state was uncooperative during the planning process.

Though Patel found that the Forest Service did not disregard the state's input, she ruled that the Forest Service still violated the National Forest Management Act by not displaying the results of its discussions with the state in the environmental impact statement.

"Even if the Forest Service's review of California's policy was impeded by California's failure to fully engage in the planning process, the rule nevertheless required the Forest Service to display the results of its review, however impeded," Patel wrote.

"The failure to provide any discussion of input from the state, or at least of the state's failure to fully engage in the planning process, was a violation of the NFMA."

Patel ruled that this failure was "more than a merely technical violation," as it "significantly inhibits the public's ability to understand the competing priorities of the Forest Service and the state."

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