Groups sue Forest Service over Idaho wilderness access

Publish Date: 
Sep 4, 2012

BOISE, Idaho – The BlueRibbon Coalition and the Idaho Snowmobile Association have sued the United States Forest Service (USFS) over plans to ban motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles and mountain bikes in a wilderness study area in Clearwater National Forest.

Motorized and mechanized use is prohibited in wilderness designated by Congress under the Wilderness Act of 1964. But USFS traditionally has allowed motorized use in wilderness study areas, which are not designated by Congress but are identified by agency managers as qualifying for the designation.

“Only Congress can designate wilderness,” Sandra Mitchell, public lands director of the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, told the Idaho Statesman. “We cannot stand idly by and watch them change the long-established system for managing these treasured lands.”

Over the last 40 years, trails have been built and once riders established their use, the trails fall off the list. The plan to ban the vehicles in one study area prompted the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, centered on the “Great Burn” area near the Idaho-Montana border, challenges USFS’ authority to close the area to motor vehicles without seeking public comment. BRC claims the 1964 Wilderness Act limits the Forest Service’s ability to protect wilderness administratively, which it has done since the 1920s.

"The Northern Region’s guidance to its national forests contradicts not only the law but the reality of modern-day wilderness,” said Brian Hawthorne, BRC public lands policy director. “Any wilderness designation today will necessarily be a creative balance that allows a variety of uses that would be prohibited under a pure reading of the 1964 Wilderness Act.”

Posted by Holly Wagner