Court Allows Motorized Vehicles in Custer National Forest
BILLINGS, Montana, January 10, 2014 (ENS) – Motorized vehicle recreation groups are celebrating a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision Tuesday upholding the validity of the Custer National Forest’s Beartooth Ranger District Travel Management Plan.
The Plan was released in 2008 to designate routes for motorized access in the Beartooth Ranger District, which includes the Pryor Mountains, in south-central Montana.
Despite the Plan’s restrictions on long-existing motorized access, it was challenged in federal court by the Pryors Coalition, a coalition of nonprofit organizations and individuals, including Wildlands CPR and local chapters of the Montana Wilderness Association, Audubon Society and Backcountry Horsemen.
The coalition’s lawsuit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Richard Cebull. The coalition appealed, and their appeal was heard on December 4, 2013 before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which included retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor sitting by designation.
The Ninth Circuit released its decision on January 7, affirming the district court’s ruling and leaving the Travel Plan in place.
“This decision validates our patience and hard work on this project defending the sound management of a treasured place on our public lands,” said Bruce Reierson, of the Treasure State ATV Association.
“We are still frustrated by some of the closures in this plan, but are encouraged that aggressive preservationists’ efforts to second-guess the Forest Service were not rewarded here by our courts,” added Mona Ehnes of the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association.
Paul Turcke, an attorney for the recreation groups, said, “In candor, we have suffered a number of frustrating decisions at the district court level on the minimization issue. We hope that a circuit court decision, reflecting the intellect and wisdom of a retired Supreme Court Justice, might foreshadow a positive turn as our overburdened and underbudgeted Forest Service addresses the challenge of managing recreation on our public lands.”
The motorized recreation groups intervening in defense of the Forest Service decision included the Treasure State ATV Association, the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association, the Great Falls Trail Bike Riders Association, Families for Outdoor Recreation, Citizens for Balanced Use, and the BlueRibbon Coalition.
In its ruling the court concluded “…the Forest Service took the requisite hard look at the environmental impacts from continuing to allow off-road vehicle camping along
public motorized routes.”
“The Forest Service also took several steps to minimize off-road vehicle camping’s environmental impacts,” the court stated. “The Forest Service purposely declined to designate a number of roads and portions of roads for motorized use because of the impacts on cultural resources, water quality, and erosion. This will prevent off-road vehicle camping in the same sensitive areas.”
The Forest Service reduced the miles of motorized routes open to off-road vehicle camping from 150 to 125. It prohibited off-road vehicle camping along 27 miles of non-system routes. In the Beartooth Unit the Forest Service prohibited off-road vehicle camping within 100 feet of the West Fork of Rock Creek or its tributaries and closed over 20 camping sites due to environmental resource concerns, the court pointed out.
The court was satisfied that the Forest Service had minimized environmental damage from motorized vehicles by imposing seasonal restrictions on 64 miles of routes, including the sensitive higher elevation routes with which the coalition is most concerned.
The ruling states, “Seasonal closures during the spring thaw will protect not only the roads and trails, but also the adjacent land that would otherwise have been open for off-road vehicle camping.”As reported by http://ens-newswire.com/2014/01/10/ameriscan-jan-10-2014/