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In a ruling against environmentalists opposed to more off-highway vehicle access to the Superior National Forest, a federal judge determined the U.S. Forest Service's plan would close more roads than it opens.
Courthouse News Service reported that U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson in Minneapolis accepted the USFS's claim that its road-designation plan, released in 2009, would decommission 154 miles of unclassified toads, limit OHV use to 142 miles of roads and actually reduce motorized use by more than 100 miles.
The lawsuit filed by the Sierra Club and two Minnesota environmental groups claimed the forest-wide travel management plan would inclease off-road use "sevenfold," according to the news service.
"While the project overall opens 46 miles of trail to OHV use," Nelson concluded in her 50-page decision, "it decommissions 157 miles of road - a net decrease of 111 miles."
Nelson added that once the USFS plan takes effect, OHV (which includes ATV and snowmobile) use will be prohibited outside designated areas. The plan does not apply to the nonmotorized Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness which is within the Superior National Forest.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Fuller told the Minneapolis Star Tribune the rulling will move ATV routes farther from the the Boundary Waters "and onto existing roads that are mostly already available for use by cars and trucks."
Judge Nelson also criticized the environmental groups' "literal and absolute" approach to wilderness preservation.
She said the plaintiffs assume "that any Forest Service action, such as the reconfiguration of the OHV roads and trails on the SNF proposed by the project, that results in any increase in noise entering the BWCAW, any increase in non-native invasive species, or any diminishment of water and air quality, 'degrades' the wilderness character of the BWCAW so as to violate the Wilderness Act. Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burdens of establishing any arbitrary or capricious action, abuse of discretion or violation of law."
Attorneys for the environmental groups have 60 days from the date of the judge's ruling, April 12, to appeal.