Court ruling saves trails in Lewis and Clark National Forest
ATVs and other off-highway vehicles (OHVs) have recently won a fight over land usage in the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana.
At issue was the 2007 Travel Management Plan issued by the Forest. The plan reduced access for OHVs by over 50 percent and placed more of the Forest off-limits to OHVs than any alternative that had been proposed.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ruled on March 10 that the Plan violated both the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Montana Wilderness Study Act (MWSA).
“We are pleased with the ruling,” says Specialty Vehicle Institute (SVIA) and Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) general counsel, Paul Vitrano. “It shows that when agencies overstep their legal authority OHV enthusiasts and industry can not only get our voices heard, but we can impact the process.”
The plan was a violation because NEPA requires that all reasonable alternatives be presented in a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS).
“The [Forest’s] final decision was not discussed in the DEIS as an alternative and was not a blend of DEIS alternatives,” the Court wrote in its opinion. “Rather, it created a unique and separate alternative. Not only was the unexamined alternative viable and reasonable in the eyes of the Forest, it was chosen as the final agency decision.”
The Court also found that the travel plan, which would have eliminated two-thirds of the previously available motorized routes in the Middle Fork Wilderness Study Area, violated the MWSA. The MWSA directed the Forest to maintain the wilderness character of the study area as it existed when the Act was enacted, 1977.
“We believe the Court made the correct ruling in this case; however, it is important to note that the industry continues to support the Travel Management Rule, as well as efforts by the Forest Service to effectively manage OHV use,” says MIC and SVIA senior vice president, Kathy Van Kleeck. “In every case we hope that collaborative processes will result in equitable plans, but in some cases, like the Lewis and Clark, it is necessary to take additional measures.”