Yesterday Wilderness Watch and two co-plaintiff organizations filed a motion for preliminary injunction against the US Forest Service for secretly approving an unprecedented plan to allow chainsaws for clearing trails throughout the Weminuche and South San Juan Wildernesses in Colorado. The lawsuit asks the court to overturn the Forest Service’s decision and to direct the agency to follow the law by taking public input and finding lawful alternatives to using motorized equipment in Wilderness.
Thank you to the thousands of you who responded to our action alert urging the Forest Service regional forester to not approve chainsaw use. Though he ignored our concerns, your letters will show the court there is strong public interest and controversy with the underhanded action the Forest Service took, which will likely benefit our case. And it let the regional forester know that the public won’t sit back while our Wildernesses are abused.
For decades, the Forest Service has been effectively clearing downed trees in Wilderness with hand tools, but in this case, the agency bowed to pressure from local outfitters and stock user groups. This most recent decision is unprecedented because it’s the first time the Forest Service has approved motorized chainsaw use for the entire trail system within two entire Wilderness areas, all done with no public input.
The use of motorized equipment simply to make visitor access easier and more convenient or to appease a commercial interest is antithetical to Wilderness and is banned by the Wilderness Act, except in extremely rare instances where such use is essential to wilderness protection, clearly not the case here. And, the Forest Service didn’t conduct any public involvement or environmental review before authorizing this unlawful chainsaw use.
On filing the lawsuit, Wilderness Watch executive director George Nickas stated, “Wilderness exists for its own sake, free of motors and other technology that have allowed humans to dominate so much of the planet. Our response to natural events like beetle infestations, fire, or windstorms speaks volumes about our respect for Wilderness and our willingness to practice restraint, or whether our impatience or inconvenience means it’s okay to bend the rules.”
If allowed to proceed, this decision will set a disturbing precedent for widespread use of chainsaws or other motorized equipment in Wilderness for convenience and without public input. The Forest Service needs to uphold the law and preserve untrammeled Wilderness, and that’s why Wilderness Watch, San Juan Citizens Alliance and Great Old Broads are pressing this fight.