US Forest Service broke law when opening 4,900 acres of Colorado national forest to coal mining, judge rules

“The Forest Service failed to provide a logically coherent explanation for its decision to eliminate the Pilot Knob Alternative.”

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Image Credit: Jared Loftus

A federal appeals court ruled against the Trump administration for failing to protect the Gunnison National Forest’s Pilot Knob from coal mining. The United States Forest Service broke the law by eliminating the Pilot Knob Alternative, which would safeguard this road-less forest in Colorado.

The alternative was to exclude “4,900 acres in the Gunnison National Forest’s Pilot Knob area” when the Forest Service “reopened nearly 20,000 acres to coal leasing and mining,” a press stated.

“The Forest Service can no longer ignore the climate and wildlife benefits of keeping Pilot Knob’s road-less forest free from coal mining,” Matt Reed, public lands director for High Country Conservation Advocates, said. “Pilot Knob is an irreplaceable treasure, providing winter range for deer and bald eagles, severe winter range for elk, and historic and potential future habitat for the threatened Gunnison sage grouse. It is the last place we should be tearing up for coal mining.”

The 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “the Forest Service failed to provide a logically coherent explanation for its decision to eliminate the Pilot Knob Alternative.” And under the directive of the court, ordered the “lower court to vacate an exception that allowed the Forest Service to approve coal mining in road-less forests in the Gunnison River’s North Fork,” a press release stated.

The lawsuit was filed in 2017 by several conservation groups to protect the forests and wildlife, including bald eagles, elk, mule deer and Gunnison sage grouse, from potential coal leasing.

“The Court has put a halt to the Forest Service’s decision to authorize expansion of a dirty and destructive coal mine in the irreplaceable road-less areas of the North Fork Valley,” Robin Cooley, the Earthjustice attorney representing the conservation groups, said. “As a result of the ruling, the Forest Service must first consider protecting wild forests and reducing climate emissions from the West Elk mine, the state’s largest single industrial source of methane pollution.”

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