Judge rejected challenge to plan for Superior National Forest that officials say cuts vehicle access.
A plan to reconfigure routes where ATVs and other off-road vehicles may travel in the Superior National Forest can proceed, a federal judge has ruled.
District Judge Susan Richard Nelson ruled last Thursday against three environmental groups who sued federal forest managers to stop the plan, part of a nationwide effort to restrict motor vehicles to designated roads and trails in U.S. forests. The groups argued that the plan for Superior National Forest violates environmental and land management laws.
Forest officials said their plan will benefit the environment, in part, by reducing mileage open to public motorized use by 108 miles. Their plan would provide more loops and connections so off-road vehicle riders can go longer distances on more than hundreds of miles of mostly already existing routes. It would also obliterate some old logging roads or other trails that ATV riders had been using.
Federal law mandates that officials provide for multiple recreational uses in forests. As always, off-road vehicles will not be allowed in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. Environmental groups argued that the plan allowing off-road vehicles near the wilderness area's border will increase noise levels, help bring in non-native species and affect air and water quality.
Assistant U.S. Attorney David Fuller said he was pleased with the ruling and pointed out that the changes will actually move ATV routes farther from the edge of the Boundary Waters "and onto existing roads that are mostly already available for use by cars and trucks."
The groups -- the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, the Sierra Club and Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness -- have 60 days to appeal.
Brad Sagen, chair of the Northeastern Minnesotans for Wilderness, said that administrators should do a more comprehensive environmental study and that the changes don't go far enough to protect the environment.
"We are consulting with our attorneys regarding possible next steps," Sagen said.
Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102