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Brief analysis of Stanislaus decision

The Court notably upheld the USFS against the standard barrage of NEPA attacks from the plaintiffs. The courts however upheld a claim regarding the way in which the Stanislaus travel plan applied the "minimization criteria" first outlined in a 1972 Executive Order signed by President Nixon.

The "minimization criteria" directs federal land managers to "consider effects...with the objective of minimizing" a variety of factors including damage to soil, watershed, vegetation and other forest resources; harassment of wildlife and significant disruption of wildlife habitats; conflicts between motor vehicle and other uses; and conflicts among different classes of motor vehicle uses.  The "minimization criteria" have been around since 1972 and long received only passing interest. However, they were included in the 2005 Forest Service Travel Management Rule.  See, 36 CFR 212.55(b).

Stanislaus Decision

The minimization criteria acquired teeth largely through the decision declaring the Salmon-Challis National Forest travel decision invalid.  This decision was issued in 2011, and is published as Idaho Conservation League v. Guzman, 766 F.Supp.2d 1056 (D.Idaho 2011).  In short, that decision rejected the Forest Service effort to characterize the minimization criteria as providing broad guidance ("consider with objective of minimizing") and interpreted  the language as requiring the agency to show, in its NEPA analysis, how it applied the minimization factors in selecting from decision options for specific routes.  There have been several more decisions that have followed similar reasoning.  The decisions to this point have only come from federal district courts, but several appeals from them are pending before the 9th Circuit, and it is likely that the Court of Appeals will hear at least one of those cases sometime in 2013.

The approaches taken by individual Forest Service units on minimization (and other issues) vary somewhat, but the bottom line is that minimization has been addressed in many Forests under a template that is consistently being found deficient in the eyes of the courts.  And there can be a 3 to 5 year time lag between the time the agency conducts its analysis and the completion of judicial review.  So the agency has effectively been trapped- it took a similar approach to minimization in the rash of post-2005 travel decisions, and has just recently learned that many of those decisions were apparently built from a flawed decision-making template. 

Stanislaus Decision
http://archive.sharetrails.org/uploads/Stanislaus_Summary_Judgment_1.4.13.pdf