Judge denies expansion of off-highway vehicle access

A consortium of off-highway vehicle users lost a lawsuit against the federal government that sought to overturn a plan devised by the Tahoe National Forest that limited the amount of off-road use in portions of the forest.

On Friday Nov. 22, Judge John A. Mendez of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California delivered a lengthy oral ruling siding with the United States Department of Agriculture, which oversees the forest service, and denying Friends of Tahoe Forest Access in its attempt to preserve and expand access for off-highway vehicles.

The case was monitored closely by both off-road four-wheel drive enthusiasts and environmentalists who believe the recreational activity should be curbed in the interest of protecting the ecological integrity of the forest.

The Wilderness Society, the Mother Lode Chapter of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups joined the lawsuit as an intervenor and argued through their attorney, Greg Loarie, that there is no way to adequately protect a forest while allowing motor vehicles to travel all over the forest without restriction.

“This is a good decision that strikes a balance to give Tahoe National Forest some necessary, basic protection,” Loarie said. “One thing both sides of this case agree on: Tahoe National Forest is a stunning, special place. With millions of people visiting Tahoe National Forest each year and the rapid increase of motor vehicles throughout the forest, we need some basic limits on motor vehicle use to make sure that we don’t love this place to death.”

The Pacific Legal Foundation filed suit in July 2012, claiming that the forest service engaged in a “draconian denial of public lands access” that entailed what it believed was the unnecessary closure of more than 800 miles of roads and trails that have been used for decades.

“We (filed) this lawsuit to stop the U.S. Forest Service from illegally padlocking vast areas of the Tahoe National Forest and blocking the public from enjoying responsible recreational use of public lands,” said PLF attorney Brandon M. Middleton.

Middleton and the plaintiffs said the procedure by which Tahoe forest officials arrived at their designation was flawed and lacked transparency.

Apparently, Mendez disagreed.

Those close to the case anticipate that an appeal will be filed imminently.

Many of the people that comprise the Friends of Tahoe Forest Access are from Nevada County, which harbors a strong community of four-wheel enthusiasts.

David C. Wood, of Chicago Park, said via the Pacific Legal Foundation website that the forest service is robbing many residents of the freedom and choice to pursue their recreational activities.

““We’re just a bunch of volunteers and recreationists who love the outdoors and feel blessed to be able to get out there and visit in an environmentally responsible way, but now that is being denied,” he said.

“We volunteer hundreds of hours yearly to clear trails so that all who follow us can enjoy them.”

To contact Staff Writer Matthew Renda, email mrenda@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.


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The Union Updated Dec 2, 2013 08:16AM Published Dec 9, 2013 07:01AM Copyright 2013 The Union. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.