Judge reverses himself, allows road-closure lawsuit to continue
By MATEUSZ PERKOWSKI
A federal judge has resurrected an Idaho county's lawsuit against road closures on national forest land that had been dismissed last year.
Valley County filed a complaint against the U.S. Forest Service in 2011, claiming the agency's road policy violates federal law.
It was consolidated with a previous lawsuit filed by a recreational group and private citizens.
According to the plaintiffs, about three-quarters of Valley County is within national forest boundaries, so road closures are a major impediment to residents and tourists.
In 2008, the Forest Service changed its traditional policy of leaving roads in the area open to travel unless they were specifically designated closed.
Now, all roads are considered closed unless the agency designates them as open, which critics said had the effect of making most routes off-limits.
Last year, U.S. District Judge Lynn Winmill sided with the Forest Service, ruling that it would have been financially and environmentally undesirable to leave all roads open.
However, Winmill has now found that he mistakenly dismissed Valley County from the case while dismissing claims made by the recreational group and other residents.
The county should still be able to pursue claims that some of the roads within its boundaries were closed unlawfully and to "challenge the Forest Service's conclusions on environmental impact," the judge said.