We are disappointed that our lawsuit to protect the Pumice Plain from an ill-conceived road was not successful. A federal appeals court will allow the Forest Service to build a road across the Plain as early as this summer.
Since 2017 we’ve been fighting the Forest Service’s short-sighted plan to construct a road through the Pumice Plain in order to access the Spirit Lake tunnel, which is in need of maintenance and repairs. We never questioned the need to maintain the infrastructure of Spirit Lake, however we strongly opposed choosing the option that created a road across the Pumice Plain without first duly considering all access options. The Pumice Plain is a place affording researchers with opportunities available nowhere else on Earth to study ecosystem recovery. The road will now compromise a large number of long-term ongoing studies, will infringe on the public’s right to experience a unique volcanic landscape by accessing the Truman trail, and will threaten the fragile watersheds and ecosystems that exist there.
We maintain that the Forest Service did not adequately study alternatives to access the Spirit Lake work site. The agency did not provide an Environmental Impact Statement, which we believe, should have been required for this project based on the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). They failed to adequately account for a number of impacts in their Environmental Assessment including impacts to the world-class research happening in this Class 1 Research Area, impacts of road construction and runoff, and the increased likelihood of introducing invasive species, all of which will impact recreation, wildlife, watersheds, and fundamentally alter the unique character of the Pumice Plain. Additionally, the project was complicated by adding drilling to obtain information for long-term management to the tunnel repair project, making the need for an access road seem more urgent and necessary than it is and stifling the review of reasonable alternatives.
We are disappointed in the Court’s decision, and especially in the disregard for the long-term value and health of a world-renowned natural laboratory displayed by the actions of the Forest Service. This project needs more analysis and study. We will continue to stand with our coalition of partner organizations and members of the research community to continue putting pressure on the Forest Service to re-examine this decision and choose another access alternative to complete the repair work at the Spirit Lake tunnel before it’s too late.