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Groups seek to intervene in lawsuit over Forest Travel Plan

Several conservation organizations have filed to intervene in the lawsuit filed last December by several snowmobile, mountain bike, and off-road vehicle interest groups challenging the adoption of the Bitterroot National Forest’s Travel Plan.
In their lawsuit, filed on December 28, 2016, the snowmobile, mountain bike, and off-road vehicle interest groups allege that the Forest Service unlawfully restricted motorized and mechanized use in wilderness study areas below the level that existed in 1977, and unlawfully prohibited motorized and mechanized use in recommended wilderness areas. They also argued that the Forest Service violated the Travel Management Rule by imposing motor vehicle restrictions on “entire areas like [wilderness study areas] and [recommended wilderness areas],” rather than on a site-specific basis, and that the Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by allegedly not including a certain project alternative in the Draft EIS, and allegedly omitting a project alternative that would provide for “semiprimitive motorized recreation” on at least 20 percent of the Bitterroot National Forest.
The groups now filing to join the case in defense of Forest Service’s decision include Friends of the Bitterroot, Hellgate Hunters and Anglers, Missoula Back Country Horsemen, Montana Wilderness Association, Selway-Pintlar Wilderness Back Country Horsemen, Wildearth Gaurdians and Winter Wildlands. The lands at issue in the case are the Blue Joint Wilderness Study Area, the Sapphire Wilderness Study Area, and the Selway-Bitterroot Recommended Wilderness Area.
The groups asking to intervene claim that “motorized recreation undermines the ecological and wilderness values of these lands.” They claim that the motorized disturbance of snowmobiles, motorcycles, and all-terrain vehicles can shatter the silence of wilderness-quality lands, damage trails and creeks, clutter the landscape, harm wildlife, and create safety risks for other visitors. Moreover, they add, experience demonstrates that, as a practical matter, allowing non-conforming uses, including motorized use, in recommended wilderness areas and wilderness study areas undermines the opportunity for future congressional designation of these lands as wilderness. They claim the use of bicycles in those areas does damage as well and that both motorized and bicycle use has increased dramatically over the last several years.
The groups argue that in its decision to restrict motorized and bicycle use of those areas the Forest Service was simply following the laws and the rules enacted to preserve those wilderness attributes.
The case is still in its early stages.

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