August 31, 2020

Cowpasture decision upholds integrity of the National Forest System

by Lawson Fite

Justice Thomas’ opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. Forest Service v. Cowpasture River Preservation Ass’n, 140 S. Ct. 1837 (2020), holds that “[s]ometimes a complicated regulatory scheme may cause us to miss the forest for the trees, but at bottom, these cases boil down to a simple proposition: A trail is a trail, and land is land.” Id. at 1846. And with that, the Court brought clarity and simplicity to this dispute over which federal agency could grant a permit for a pipeline to cross a National Park Service–Administered trail in a National Forest. The Court also forestalled a wide array of adverse effects on other users of public lands and gave helpful guidance, in the form of a clear-statement rule, for future disputes.

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