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Colville National Forest rescinds off-road vehicle designations following lawsuit

UPDATED: Thu., June 10, 2021

The sun sets on Monday July 30, 2018 from Snow Peak Cabin in the Colville National Forest.  (Eli Francovich)
The sun sets on Monday July 30, 2018 from Snow Peak Cabin in the Colville National Forest. (Eli Francovich)

Following a court decision, the Colville National Forest has rescinded a rule that opened 117 miles of road to all-terrain vehicles.

In 2020, a lawsuit alleged that the 1.1 million-acre forest didn’t follow the proper procedures when it opened the roads to ATV use.

“ATVs have a rightful place on the Colville National Forest, but opening new motorized routes requires public vetting and environmental review to avoid impacts to important wildlife habitat, consider other recreation values, and ensure enforcement and accountability for illegal behavior,” said Tiana Luke, Colville Forest Lead for Conservation Northwest, in a news release.

She added, “none of that was done here.”

A spokesperson for the Colville National Forest declined to comment on the decision.

Conservation Northwest, alongside WildEarth Guardians, filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Eastern Washington in December 2020. The suit asked the court to invalidate the Forest Service’s decision.

On Monday, the court filed a dismissal order and judgment.

While both groups had environmental concerns about the road openings – namely, that more ATV access would lead to more illegal ATV riding – the legal challenge focused on the fact that the forest didn’t allow the public to comment, nor did it perform a detailed environmental analysis.

The road openings were mostly in the west side of the forest in Ferry and Stevens counties, Luke said. Those roads are still open to vehicle traffic. However, following Monday’s decision, they are not open to ATV use.

“We’re hopeful this marks a turning point for the Colville and a renewed commitment to collaboration, science, and sincerely involving the community on recreation, forestry and other projects,” Luke said in the statement.

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