Lawsuit challenges Plumas National Forest ban on ATVs

Two counties and a coalition of advocates are challenging the government’s sharp reduction of trails and roads in the Plumas National Forest available to motorized recreational vehicles.

A lawsuit filed Wednesday in Sacramento federal court alleges that thousands of roads and trails open for decades to the public are now unlawfully off-limits to personal vehicles such as ATVs, motorcycles, snowmobiles, trucks and jeeps.

The suit accuses the U.S. Forest Service of violating two federal laws by blocking access to these roads and trails “without a careful, factually specific review of environmental impacts, including consequences for the public.”

There are approximately 975,000 acres of the Plumas National Forest in Plumas County and approximately 100,000 in Butte County. The suit contends the Forest Service action deprives county residents of popular recreational activities and undermines their economies by discouraging tourism and recreational visitors.

The suit says the 2010 closures are particularly difficult for disabled persons, who require motorized vehicles to reach many parts of the forest. One of those is individual plaintiff Amy Granat, a Clarksburg resident and managing director of the California Off-Road Vehicle Association, who has an autoimmune disease that required her to undergo chemotherapy, causing leg infections and limiting her ability to walk.

“To me, what the Forest Service has done seems like an incredible overreach,” Granat said, according to a Pacific Legal Foundation release Wednesday. “We have to insist that it is part of our right to access public land in an environmentally responsible way.”

There are approximately 3,236 routes covering approximately 1,107 miles that were created by constant use within the national forest. Of those, all but approximately 200 routes and 237 miles were closed in 2010, pursuant to the forest’s travel management decision, according to Ted Hadzi-Antich, a Pacific Legal Foundation attorney in Sacramento, representing the plaintiffs.

In addition, some roads and trails that are part of the National Forest Transportation System remain open, said Hadzi-Antich.

Forest Service spokesman John Heil said the service’s policy is not to comment on pending litigation.

The plaintiffs are individual recreational users of the forest, the Sierra Access Coalition, the California Off-Road Vehicle Association and Plumas and Butte counties, two of the five counties where the 1.14 million acres of the Plumas National Forest are located.

In 2012, the Pacific Legal Foundation filed a similar lawsuit targeting road and trail closures in the Tahoe National Forest. In January 2014, U.S. District Judge John A. Mendez sided with the forest service. An appeal is pending before the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Call The Bee’s Denny Walsh, (916) 321-1189.