Chain of Lakes Lawsuit
A hearing on the motion for summary judgment in the Chain of Lakes permit quota lawsuit was held in U. S. District Court on Wednesday, February 11, 2004 before Judge John Tunheim.
At the hearing, Betsy Schmiesing from the Faegre Law Firm represented the Friends of the Boundary Waters. She stated that the numbers the Forest Service used to increase the permit quotas were overly inflated, resulting in more motor use in the Boundary Waters. Schmiesing said that resort and property owners and their guest are not being denied access to the lakes they are located on. These property owners still have exempt permits for this use. Schmiesing failed to acknowledge the use of the remaining chain of lake waters, beyond the first lake, these property owners are now required to obtain a permit for.
Representing Conservationists with Common Sense, David Oberstar from the Fryberger Law Firm in Duluth contended that the Forest Service numbers were conservative, as they did not accurately reflect the numerous resort and property owners (and their guests) who sold their properties because of the restrictions of the 1978 BWCS Wilderness Act. Oberstar said the increase of permits to rectify the problems caused by the redefining of the law does not indicate an increase in the number of motors in the Boundary Waters.
The Forest Service was represented by Joan Humes from the US Attorneys office in Minneapolis. Humes said that the Forest Service did the best job they could, based on the limited resources available showing the actual use during the permit cap period of 1976, 1977 and 1978. She said as a result of the appeals court ruling, the permit quota had to be refigured to include the previously exempted users on the chains of lakes.
In a decision filed Aug. 26, 2004, Judge Jack Tunheim in Minneapolis ruled that the U.S. Forest Service must cut motor permits on three chains of lakes by two-thirds to comply with the 1978 federal law that set BWCAW regulations. "In this instance, Congress did not delegate to the USFS the authority to recalculate a statutory cap" in the number of motor permits, Tunheim wrote in his decision, adding that the Forest Service's increase in motor permits was an "arbitrary and capricious recalculation of the statutory cap."
In a move that surprised even the president of Conservationists With Common Sense, the U.S. Forest Service has decided to appeal a district court decision on the chain of lakes issue. “Basically our reason for appeal was that we felt like there were some issues in the previous ruling that were not fully understood, at least like we understood them,” said Kawishiwi District Ranger Mark Van Every.
An opinion was issued by the US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit that upheld the ability and need for the US Forest Service to adjust motor permit quotas on those lakes affected by the "Chain of Lakes" court rulings. The court stated "We reverse the district court insofar as we conclude that the USFS has the authority to recalculate the base period use to correct a significant legal error made manifest by the Dombeck ruling." Several preservation groups had attempted to claim that the USFS did not have the ability to manage the Boundary Waters as spelled out in the 1978 BWCAW Act. CWCS has issued a press release concerning the appeals court ruling, as well as a summary of the main points of the ruling.