Environmental Orgs Fight Decision to Allow WATVs on Roads in Washington Forest

Conservation Northwest and WildEarth Guardians claimed in an Eastern District of Washington complaint filed on Monday that a U.S. Forest Service decision to open roads in the Colville National Forest to vehicle uses, specifically to wheeled all-terrain vehicles (WATVs) will have damaging effects on the wildlife in the area. 

The Colville National Forest is located on the northeast side of Washington state, according to the Forest Service website. The forest contains 1.5 million acres of forest, hiking trails, and areas for fishing, hunting, mountain biking, and other outdoor activities. The Forest Service reportedly placed in its vehicle use map published in 2020 a new vehicle designation allowing wheeled all-terrain vehicles on some forest roads in the Colville forest. 

The complaint said generally forest roads are closed to vehicle use, but 26 road segments were changed from only allowing highway-legal vehicles to allowing WATVs. The Forest Service reportedly recognized that there was public interest to create loop rides connecting interesting areas, but they did not go through the typical process of opening it up to public comments and considering environmental impacts before opening the roads and making the change. 

Conservation Northwest and WildEarth Guardians claimed that these actions by the Forest Service breach the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the plaintiffs said “the Forest Service adopted the new motor vehicle use designations without grappling with the consequences of the changes through a public, environmental review process, as governing law requires.” 

The filing cited the Endangered Species Act and said that the actions could be endangering Canada lynx, bull trout, grizzly bears, woodland caribou, and Western yellow-billed cuckoo. Each of these animals is reportedly on the endangered species list and the WATVs would be allowed on roads in their habitats. 

The environmental organizations asked the court to reinstate former road designations, declare that the maps published by the forest service allowing the vehicles breached federal laws, and vacate the decision and the maps. 

The plaintiffs are represented by Kampmeier & Knutsen PLLC and attorneys with WildEarth Guardians