Montana – Lewis and Clark National Forest Travel Management Plan

Overview

dsc00874_800x476This case has been the “rock ’em sock ’em robot” of the BRC Legal Program the last few years.  Meaning it has provided some of our greatest successes, and most stinging disappointments.  We hope the final chapter has not been written.

This case was brought though the inquiry and stalwart efforts of our partners with Montana Trail Vehicle Riders and Great Falls Trail Bike Riders, who have long championed responsible active management and meticulously participated in the travel planning process on the Lewis and Clark National Forest.  Through their efforts many key roads and trails were designated in the agency’s plan.  But the agency capitulated to cries from a growing preservationist influence in refusing to allow continued riding on others.  The BlueRibbon Legal Team drafted their administrative appeal, and when it was predictably denied worked with them in forming a powerful plaintiff group including the Russell Country Sportsmen, Great Falls Snowmobile Club and Meagher County Little Belters, and the Motorcycle Industry Council and Specialty Vehicle Industry Association.  We filed suit in untested legal ground in the Great Falls Division of the U.S. District of Montana.

Our efforts were quickly rewarded.  The case moved quickly, and on March 10, 2010 District Judge Sam Haddon issued a ruling on the merits in our favor, finding that the Forest Service travel plan had violated NEPA by choosing a final route network decision that restricted more motorized route miles than disclosed in any alternative, imposing an unheard of “vehicle plus trailer length” dispersed camping requirement, and illegally “enhancing” the wilderness character of the Middle Fork Judith Wilderness Study Area.  We were able to agree on the remedy with the Forest Service, which included interim changes to the plan that lifted restrictions on over 200 miles of key trails.

The Forest Service and intervenors Montana Wilderness Association appealed.  They unfortunately received a reversal on all counts from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  The Ninth Circuit engaged a series of maneuvers to reposition the motorized route miles back within the range of alternatives, finding the change on camping from the “300 foot rule” to “vehicle plus trailer length” affecting over 80,000 acres was a “minor” change and that the Montana Wilderness Study Act allows the Forest Service to “enhance” wilderness character despite other courts’ contrary opinions on this topic.

BRC and the partner groups have decided to take this case to the next level.  We think the Ninth Circuit’s decision not only whiffed on several legal issues but epitomizes a broader area of confusion interpreting the proper application of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 summary judgment procedures in federal agency cases brought under the Administrative Procedure Act.  We filed a Petition for Writ of Certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court on March 22, 2012.

Unfortunately, on May 21, 2012 our petition for writ of certiorari was denied.  However, the Forest Service decided, based on a variety of factors, to leave the interim remedy negotiated as a result of our victory in the district court in place through the end of the 2012 season.  Hopefully the lessons learned on the ground and improved dialogue facilitated by our litigation effort will continue to pay dividends as the Forest revisits the Travel Plan.

Pleadings

Lawsuits threaten IMMEDIATE CLOSURE of OHV trails!
Please help us defend trails against aggressive environmentalist attack.