OGDEN -- A federal judge ruled this week that the Ogden Ranger District of the U.S. Forest Service has to stop development on motorized trails and redo parts of a 2007 travel plan that control motorized travel.
U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups ruled Tuesday that the Forest Service failed to adequately plan for environmental impacts of illegal roads in the plan and failed to allow enough public comment about the impact of those trails.
"Although the Forest Service catalogued existing illegal trails," Waddoups wrote in his opinion, "it should have provided notice to the public that it would answer reasonable inquiries about how to use the data or provide assistance in understanding the information provided.
"Furthermore, the Forest Service must provide support for its conclusion that the Travel Plan's impact on illegal use will be neutral."
The travel plan regulates 244 miles of motorized trails in Weber, Box Elder, Cache and Rich counties, including the Shoshone Trail. The Sierra Club and several other conservation organizations filed suit when the travel plan was adopted in 2007, challenging roads in the plan that it said were not legal roads.
Kathy Jo Pollock, spokeswoman for the Uintah-Wasatch-Cache National Forest, said Thursday she could not comment because the Forest Service had not yet been advised of the decision.
Joro Walker of Western Resource Advocates, attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a news release that "Judge Waddoups supported our argument that the Ogden Ranger District had not fully and fairly analyzed the impacts of its new travel plan."
Dan Schroeder, conservation chair of the Sierra Club's Ogden chapter, said, "We appealed this travel plan because it represented a radical change in the Ogden Ranger District. The Forest Service threw considerations of elk and sharp-tail grouse habitat, quiet recreation and wilderness values out the window."
Schroeder said the problem is that people with off-road vehicles have created a number of roads in the national forests, some in designated wilderness areas, that are illegal.
Sometimes called "ghost roads" because they aren't on the map, Schroeder said some ended up in the 2007 travel plan anyway. He said the Forest Service then started improving some of those ghost roads, and even extending them.
"What this (the decision) means is that some of the new motorized trails that the Forest Service has been planning to build, including some that go through inventoried roadless areas, cannot be built," he said.
He said the Forest Service could appeal the decision to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver, "but we're anxious to talk to them. Throughout this process we've continually asked them would they be willing to sit down and settle this, and they've said no."
In addition to the Sierra Club, the plaintiffs included the Western Wildlife Conservancy, the Wild Utah Project and the Citizens Committee to Save Our Canyons.