February 18, 2000 (208) 334-4112 COURT WARNS FOREST SERVICE WHILE FINDING IDAHO SUED TOO SOON (Boise) - Idaho will not be permitted to go forward at this time with it's lawsuit against the United States Forest Service. The Federal District Court in Boise issued an order this morning granting the Forest Service's motion to dismiss the State's lawsuit. Attorney General Al Lance filed the lawsuit on December 30 on behalf of Governor Dirk Kempthorne and the Idaho Land Board. The state was asking the court for a preliminary injunction ordering the Forest Service to extend the time allowed for public comment on the massive roadless plan. In dismissing the state's case, U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge ruled that the state had asked the court to intervene before the court had authority to do so. Judge Lodge said the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) dictates that the state must wait until there is a "final agency action" before the court can intervene. The Court did not address the merits of Idaho's claims, but warned the Forest Service that it should do so. "As stewards of the federal funds being expended to complete the NEPA process on the proposed action, the Forest Service should make every effort to ensure that the process is properly implemented with reasonable time frames to allow meaningful participation by the public," Judge Lodge said in his written order."It appears at least arguable to this Court that the Forest Service may be inviting error and a necessary review of its actions by ignoring the objections of the Plaintiffs for a meaningful scoping process." The Court went on to chastise the Forest Service for failing to disclose its intentions. "When the areas contemplated to be roadless are not defined or shown by way of maps or otherwise illustrated, one does not have to be learned in the law to determine the public's participation will hardly be 'meaningful.'" the Court said. "The sheer magnitude of this governmental action involving 40 to 60 million acres nationwide that precipitated 500,000 comments in sixty days is the best evidence the Forest Service should proceed with caution. Time is not of the essence on an issue that has been studied for over 30 years." Attorney General Lance said the state will carefully review the order before deciding the next step. However, Lance added that the state will continue to work for a meaningful and open public process. "It appears that the court's hands were tied by a rather absurd federal statute," Attorney General Lance said. "The law says the Forest Service must facilitate the 'active participation' of states and tribes. But apparently the same law precludes the courts from intervening until the decision is made and the damage has been done. If there is no other way, we'll wait until the Forest Service formally announces the decision President Clinton has already made and then seek relief." On October 19, 1999 the Forest Service published a vaguely worded "Notice of Intent" in The Federal Register announcing a rulemaking process for "roadless" areas under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The proposal appears to impact at least 50 million acres nationwide and 9 million acres in Idaho. The Forest Service notice allowed only 60 days for public comment on a project that President Clinton described as "one of the largest land preservation efforts in America's history." The Forest Service has said it will complete the Environmental Impact Statement and make a final decision by the end of this year. When Lance sued, the Forest Service had failed to meet the Freedom of Information Act's deadline to provide public documents related to the roadless proposal. Some, but not all, of those documents have since been provided. Lance has filed an administrative appeal with the Forest Service to obtain either the withheld documents or an adequate explanation as to why they were upheld. The Forest Service also ignored written requests for an extended comment period from Governor Kempthorne, Attorney General Lance, and the attorneys general of 7 other western states. The court did not dismiss the lawsuits brought by other parties raising different legal issues related to the roadless plan. Those plaintiffs are the Intermountain Forest Association, the Idaho State Snowmobile Association and the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho.