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No Humans Allowed!

Island Park News of Island Park, Idaho

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The Federal Lands Lock-down.

In a dispute over access to publicly owned property that could ripple across dozens of states, a lawsuit has been filed in California challenging a federal bureaucracy move essentially to shut down a national forest and lock the door. "This lawsuit challenges the closure to motorized travel of thousands of unclassified but previously lawfully used roads and trails, representing hundreds of miles of recreational and access opportunities in Plumas National Forest," explains the document filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation, which previously has defeated the government in several land-use battles that have gone to the Supreme Court. The new case, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, alleges the government is blocking thousands of recreation roads and roads commonly used by the public for years in the Plumas National Forest. Bringing the complaint are Butte and Plumas counties, several recreational associations and a number of individuals, including Clarksburg resident Amy Grant, a disabled woman who now is prevented from using public lands. The Plumas forest in is northern California, and the lawsuit alleges the U.S. Forest Service violated several mandatory procedures outlined in the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act to block access to "much of Plumas National Forest." Plumas officials declined to comment on the dispute, and there was no response from a regional office. "We are suing to stop federal officials from illegally 'fencing off a vast portion of Plumas National Forest from responsible recreational use by the public," said PLF senior staff attorney Ted Hadzi-Antich in a prepared statement. "Federal officials have a duty to protect the environment, but not to keep humans out of the environment. One of the primary purposes of our national forests is to provide for recreational uses. Yet the Forest Service is now prohibiting responsible recreation, by restricting access to thousands of roads and trails that the public has long had the right to use in motorized vehicles." The policy at issue is the recent Plumas National Forest Public Motorized Travel Management Record of Decision and Environmental Impact Statement and how it is being applied. That decision, Pacific Legal explained, "excluded thousands of roads and trails that had been used by the public for motorized travel and recreational purposes for decades." "Although these routes had been previously unclassified and not officially part of the National Forest Transportation System, they were always open to the public and it was entirely lawful to use them for motorized travel." Then they were closed without proper documentation and sometimes without even a visit from the officials closing them down, the action alleges. This kind of drive-by decision-making isn't just a careless way to make policy for our national forests. It's also illegal. When decisions affect public lands, NEPA requires site-specific analysis of the environmental and human consequences, and that didn't happen here," Hadzi-Antich said. He continued: We have to insist that it is part of our right to be able to access public land in an environmentally responsible way. Pacific Legal told WND the same issue is becoming apparent widely across the western United States, where many states have designated national forests, as well as across the South.

"In a democracy, there are few things more troublesome to the body politic (or to just plain folks) than bureaucrats who ingest large doses of self-importance while trying to expand their limited powers. If it weren't so dangerous, it'd be pitiful." He continued: "There is an overarching issue here. The Forest Service is taking similar actions at the approximately 150 national forests located throughout the nation, which makes this an issue of concern to those living in every nook and cranny of the country within driving distance of a national forest.

"The Forest Service cannot violate the law with impunity. Even more broadly, federal administrative agencies must stay within the bounds of the law established by our elected officials. Isn't that how our government is supposed to work?"

"Extortionate demands for property in the land-use permitting context run afoul of the Takings Clause not because they take property but because they impermissibly burden the right not to have property taken without just compensation," the opinion said. "It is settled that the unconstitutional conditions doctrine applies even when the government threatens to withhold a gratuitous benefit."

WND also reported when the Supreme Court knocked down the Environmental Protection Agency's attempt to issue a "drive-by" decision that a parcel of land in Idaho was a protected wetlands and prohibit the owner from using it. The decision came in the case of the Sackett family of Priest Lake, Idaho. Mike and Chantell Sackett bought a piece of land in a residential subdivision that was about two-thirds of an acre, purchased the appropriate building permits and started work on their dream home. Then the EPA arrived, ordered them to restore the land to its pristine condition, protect it for years and then go through a ruinously expensive application process to request permission to use their own land. Further, the EPA, in collusion with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, told the couple they could not even challenge the decision unless they went through that expensive process. The high court said the EPA must provide a process through which a challenge to its decision can be addressed in a meaningful way. The law firm working on behalf of the Sacketts called the decision a "precedent-setting victory for the rights of all property owners."

The EPA previously had threatened the couple with fines of up to $75,000 per day for failing to follow the agency's intrusive "compliance" plan through which federal officials not only effectively seized control of the land, but also the couple, by demanding their paperwork records and other detailed information.

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Original Publication Date: March 26, 2015

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