A federal judge ruled Friday that the Forest Service can move ahead with a plan to establish a snowmobile trail that would come within 400 feet of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, the Star Tribune reports.
The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim was a setback for environmental groups that spent years fighting against the trail in court. They argued that placing a snowmobile trail within earshot of the BWCA violates the spirit of the 1978 law that made the Boundary Waters a federal wilderness area.
Judge Tunheim disagreed, writing that the snowmobile route would affect relatively few winter visitors in a small portion of the wilderness area with "sound equivalent to moderate rainfall," MPR News says.
The two-mile snowmobile trail the Forest Service approved in 2006 would run along the Royal River, connecting McFarland Lake with South Fowl Lake, a popular ice fishing destination.
In arguments before Tunheim in October, an attorney representing the Forest Service said winter campers are unlikely in that area, particularly since the Royal does not freeze over during most winters, the Cook County News Herald reported then.
The Duluth News Tribune reports the Forest Service proposed the trail after it began ticketing snowmobilers along the commonly-used but technically illegal route in 2002.
An official with Wilderness Watch, one of the groups opposing the trail, expressed disappointment with Tunheim's ruling. Kevin Proescholdt told the Star Tribune “Our fear is this will be another cut in the death of a thousand cuts to the Boundary Waters.”