Routt County Eight conservation groups have filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Forest Service for failing to respond to appeals on three forest plan revisions, including the Routt National Forest plan revision.
It's the objective of the groups to limit logging, grazing, motorized recreation and road construction in the national forests.
The Forest Service is supposed to respond within 160 days to appeals after it finishes forest plans. Three years after an appeal of the Arapahoe-Roosevelt Forest plan was filed and two years after appeals to the Rio Grande and Routt plans, the agency has yet to reply, said Jacob Smith, policy director for the Wildland Center for Preventing Road Building, one of the eight conservation groups involved in the lawsuit.
The conservation groups' appeals claim that all three forest plans failed to adhere to the National Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act. Both acts are meant to protect wildlife habitat and wilderness values on public lands.
The eight groups, including Colorado Wild Inc., Colorado Environmental Coalition and the Land and Water Fund of the Rockies, have specifically cited helicopter logging in the Routt National Forest as contradicting the two acts.
"Basically, we're saying that we need a reply on these appeals," Smith said of the pending lawsuit.
A similar appeal was made of the Black Hills National Forest's plan in South Dakota in 1998. That resulted in the Washington, D.C., office of the Forest Service changing the forest management policy to limit public livestock grazing on the forest land.
"That's exactly what we're after; for them to make that kind of decision," Smith said.
In the Colorado case, the conservation groups hope a U.S. District Court judge rules that the Forest Service has to respond to the appeals immediately. Ideally, the groups would like those responses to reflect that grazing, logging, motorized recreation and road construction infringe on the Environmental Policy Act and the National Forest Management Act.
If the response doesn't reflect that, the groups have the option to take the Forest Service to a federal court to try to force a change in the forest plans.
"That's something we would consider doing," Smith said.
Forest Service officials in Washington are staying tight-lipped about the issue.
"It's undetermined what the best course of action is," said Casey Giffen, Forest Service appeals program manager. She would not comment any further on the issue. Attorneys for the Forest Service could not be reached.
Local forest officials are in the dark on the matter.
"It's at the Washington-offices level," said Denise Germann, public affairs officer for the Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest.
She hasn't received information about the notice to sue.
Appeals to the Routt Forest plan also are handled in Washington.
"It's their responsibility to respond to the appeals," said Jerry Schmidt, Medicine Bow-Routt National Forest supervisor.
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