Judge denies Nevada off-road challenge to grouse protection
by SCOTT SONNER - Associated Press - Monday, July 13, 2020
RENO, Nev. (AP) - A federal judge has upheld the U.S. Forest Service’s authority to keep a 250-mile (400-kilometer) motorcycle race out of sage grouse habitat in Nevada’s high desert, rejecting a lawsuit by off-road vehicle enthusiasts who argued the agency illegally short-circuited the environmental review process.
The lawsuit filed in December 2018 challenged Forest Service rules barring off-road travel within 4-mile (6.5-km) buffers around bi-state grouse breeding grounds between March 1 and June 30 in the Mono Basin along the California-Nevada line.
That forced the Sierra Trail Dogs Motorcycle and Recreational Club to postpone the now 25-year-old Mystery 250 dirt bike race traditionally held in mid-June to mid-July, a move the group said greatly increased fire risk and safety concerns due to greater heat and reduced moisture.
The club and others argued that the travel prohibition was broader than previously considered and wasn’t specifically included among alternatives subject to public comment on either the draft or final environmental impact statements issued by the agency.
They said the Forest Service should have been required to conduct a supplemental environmental review to consider the impacts of the broader rules, and that failure to do so was a violation of the National Environmental Policy Act.
U.S. District Judge Miranda Du in Reno disagreed. She said in a July 7 ruling the standard the agency adopted was a minor variation of the one included in the final environmental review and that a supplemental review wasn’t necessary.
Her decision was cheered by conservationists who have been involved in a decade-long legal battle to protect the bi-state grouse and had sided with the Forest Service as federal intervenors in the case.
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