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Judges rule for USFS in Nevada road dispute

>> Federal judges today upheld a Forest Service plan to rebuild a controversial road in Nevada’s Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest.

At issue is a Jarbidge Canyon road that was severely damaged when the Jarbidge River flooded in 1995. Located in Elko County, the area is home to the only population of bull trout — a threatened species — known to exist south of the Snake River.

Great Old Broads for Wilderness and the Wilderness Society have fought in court for more than a decade to keep the Forest Service from rebuilding South Canyon Road, arguing that the building and motor vehicle traffic would pose a risk to the trout.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals dealt those efforts a significant blow today, ruling that the Forest Service’s plan for the road complies with the National Forest Management Act and National Environmental Policy Act. The case marks the third time issues surrounding the road have risen to the appeals court.

Specifically, the three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the Forest Service’s plan was not arbitrary and capricious as the challengers claimed. Further, Judge Ronald Gould wrote that the agency included “several mitigating modifications,” including minimizing the number of river crossings by heavy equipment during construction and marking low water crossings with low speed limits.

The Wilderness Society and Great Old Broads wanted the road to be exclusively for hiking.

The road was originally built between 1911 and 1918. The flood of 1995 eliminated vehicle access to the Snowslide Gulch portion of the Jarbidge wilderness.

Read the opinion.

Jeremy P. Jacobs  for Environment & Energy, March 4, 2013