Environmental groups recently filed a lawsuit alleging that the Forest Service is illegally allowing operations to bottle water on the San Bernardino National Forest after the special use permit for those operations expired. The water bottling operation, which is conducted by Nestle Waters North America, was initially authorized under a special use permit which expired in 1988. Nestle has applied to renew its permit, but that application process has not been completed. The plaintiffs claim that the continued operations are a violation of the Federal Land Policy Management Act because they are not being conducted under a valid, existing permit. The plaintiffs further claim that the removal of the water is having an environmental impact at the well and tunnel sites associated with the bottling operations as well as on riparian species in a tributary near the operations. The Forest Service has reportedly asserted that the permit remains in full force and effect according to its terms.
Archives for October 2015
The Forest Service recently granted a request by an outfitter to stay the agency’s suspension of his permit while his appeal was completed. The outfitter’s operations were suspended right before the beginning of the hunting season based on a prior alleged violation of his permit which occurred several months earlier in the summer. However, the outfitter asserted that he was never provided with an opportunity to cure the alleged violation and that this constituted a violation of federal law, regulation and even Forest Service policy.
The District Ranger who issued the suspension argued that, because the outfitter was in a probationary status and had been warned that any further violations would result in an immediate suspension, the agency was entitled to suspend him immediately without first giving him a chance to cure the alleged violation. While the District Ranger claimed that he also had suspended operations to protect the public and environment, which is a basis for immediate suspension, he had not stated those reasons in his suspension letter but had instead indicated that he was frustrated by what he viewed as repeated violations. The Forest Supervisor granted the outfitter’s request for a stay pending her final decision on the appeal.
Wilderness Watch, based in Montana, recently filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that Forest Service outfitters have improperly exceeded the maximum number of trips they are allowed to make with motorized boats to tow canoeists in Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. The lawsuit apparently is based on the assumption that each permit issued represents a trip actually taken and also involves an ongoing dispute as to what specifically constitutes a “trip.” In the lawsuit, Wilderness Watch asserted that the number of assisted trips “adversely affect[ed] Wilderness Watch’s organizational interests, as well as its members’ use and enjoyment of the BWCAW.” Wilderness Watch reportedly asserted that the assistance provided by the outfitters to the canoeists was diminishing the wilderness experience of its members who did not need such assistance. The outfitters have asserted that the goal of Wilderness Watch is to remove all of the motorized services provided in BWCAW.
The Wilderness Act generally prohibits any motorized activities within wilderness areas. In order to obtain the original BWCA wilderness designation in 1964, its promoters provided assurances that established motorized uses would be allowed. After that designation, motorized use was then further scaled back to only certain lakes and under quota limits.
A federal court recently held that the Forest Service conducted an insufficient review for documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, and also failed to justify withholding certain of the responsive documents it did locate. As the Court noted, “the FOIA provides the public with a broad right of access to federal agency records subject to nine specific exemptions.” The FOIA’s purpose “is to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governors accountable to the governed.”
The court found that, while FOIA does not require an agency to search every record system or to demonstrate that no other potentially responsive documents might exist, it still must show “that it made a good faith effort to conduct a search for the requested records, using methods which can be reasonably expected to produce the information requested.” In the case, the Forest Service failed to check with individuals who likely had responsive documents and failed to search offices which were involved in the decision at issue. The court also found that the agency’s justification for withholding documents consisted of reciting the legal standard for withholding documents but failed to provide sufficient detail for the court to determine if that standard actually had been met.
- Sequoia National Park Closes October 8, 2015
- Petrified Forest National Park Closes October 9, 2015
- Great Basin National Park Closes October 14, 2015
- Hot Springs National Park Closes October 20, 2015
- Mammoth Cave National Park Closes November 12, 2015
- Rock Creek Park Closes November 13, 2015
- Mount Rainier National Park Closes January 7, 2016
- Mount Rushmore National Memorial Closes January 13, 2016