Nonprofits, Professors Challenge Proposed U.S. Forest Service Road Through National Monument

On Monday, the U.S. Forest Service was sued by four environmental organizations and two university professors over a road that the agency plans to build through the Pumice Plain, the blast zone of Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument in Washington state. The 67-page complaint took issue not only with where the USFS intends to put the road, because it allegedly would damage newly forming streams and watersheds, introduce invasive species, and eliminate access to one of the Monument’s most popular hiking trails, but also with the Service’s “piecemeal” approach to planning.

The Western District of Washington filing first introduced Mount St. Helens, noting that it “is a powerful mountain—historically, geologically, culturally—for the United States and the world.” The complaint recounted the volcano’s historic 1980 eruption that killed 57 people and the subsequent Congressional designation of the 110,000-acre Monument. According to the plaintiffs, the Monument’s mission is to protect the main features of the blast zone, allow geologic forces and ecological succession to continue largely unimpeded, and permit the full use of the Monument for scientific study and research.

The filing explained that research conducted at the Monument has “caused biology textbooks to be rewritten” with its groundbreaking findings. The plaintiffs claimed that the Service’s proposed road threatens those research efforts. In particular, they argued that it would destroy decades-old research plots and permanently change the area’s unique ecological conditions.

In their five-count complaint, the plaintiffs averred that the USFS violated the National Forest Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Administrative Procedure Act by failing to observe statutory strictures and making decisions contrary to legal obligations. The complaint requested that the court declare the agency’s actions unlawful and enjoin the project until the agency submits legally adequate plans and environmental assessments.

The plaintiffs are represented by the Western Environmental Law Center.