GREAT FALLS, MT (September 2) -- A coalition of recreational groups has filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District of Montana challenging the Travel Management Plan for a portion of the Lewis and Clark National Forest in north central Montana. According to the suit, over 50 percent of the Forest lands previously open to motorized vehicle travel were closed by the Travel Plan, which was confirmed as the Forest Service's final decision in January 2008.
"We seek balance between protection of natural and historical resources and the ability of a diverse population to enjoy them," said John Borgreen of the Russell Country Sportsmen. "If this decision is allowed to stand, it will eliminate long-honored practices like using vehicles for camping and big-game retrieval, and could force property owners to ride expert-level ATV trails to gain access to their backcountry cabins. Too many trail closures can cause, not reduce, environmental damage at a time when Montanans should proudly defend their rich outdoor culture," Borgreen stated.
"We have long recognized the need for responsible management of all forms of recreation on public lands, and have invested not only our dollars, but our time and sweat in sound management of these trails," echoed Mona Ehnes of the Great Falls Trail Bike Riders Association. "We support managed recreation and the concept of moving motorized travel to a designated route system, but this decision went too far and ignored sound science and public planning requirements," claimed Ehnes.
The Travel Plan implements for the Forest a national rule adopted in late 2005 that requires Forest Service units to designate roads, trails and areas for motorized vehicle use. Those plans must undergo a lengthy public planning process, but the recreational groups claim that the Forest botched the process here by failing to identify a preferred alternative to focus public review, and by ultimately selecting a final decision that closed more roads, trails and areas than any alternative considered by the Forest during the process. "We're used to getting half the loaf," observed Brian Hawthorne, Public Lands Policy Director for the BlueRibbon Coalition. "But here the Forest said half a loaf was our worst-case scenario, and then gave us only two slices," Hawthorne concluded.
Joining the recreational groups are the Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA) and the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC). SVIA Executive Vice President Paul Vitrano commented, "SVIA and MIC are strong supporters of managed OHV use; however, the Lewis and Clark plan favors wholesale closures over effective management." Vitrano added, "The industry continues to support the Travel Management Rule as well as efforts by the Forest Service to effectively manage OHV use, but in some cases, like the Lewis and Clark, it will be necessary to take additional steps to ensure an equitable outcome."
The suit was filed by the Russell Country Sportsmen, Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association, Great Falls Trail Bike Riders Association, Great Falls Snowmobile Club, Meagher County Little Belters, Treasure State Alliance, Motorcycle Industry Council, Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, and the BlueRibbon Coalition. Representing the plaintiffs are Paul Turcke of Boise, Idaho, Bill Horn of Washington, D.C., and Rob Cameron of Helena, Montana.
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The BlueRibbon Coalition is a national recreation group that champions responsible use of public and private lands, and encourages individual environmental stewardship. It represents over 10,000 individual members and 1,200 organization and business members, for a combined total of over 600,000 recreationists nationwide. 1-800-258-3742. BlueRibbon Coalition