Snowmobilers Fight Uncle Sam in the Forest

     BOISE (CN) – Snowmobilers claim in court that the U.S. Forest Service is illegally restricting their machines in Clearwater National Forest.
     The Idaho State Snowmobile Association’s federal lawsuit is the latest shot in a seemingly endless fight over use of the machines on public lands.
     The Clearwater National Forest includes of 1.8 million acres of mountains and river drainages in north central Idaho. It is bordered by Montana on the east, Idaho’s Panhandle National Forest on the north and the Nez Perce National Forest and the Palouse Prairie to the south and west.
     The Snowmobile Association and its co-plaintiff the BlueRibbon Coalition claim the Forest Service’s 2011 Travel Management Plan will cut off access to four of the Clearwater Forest’s 16 Inventoried Roadless Areas, where snowmobilers have been using trails for decades. The four roadless areas consist of 198,200 acres.
     “The Travel Plan reflects a decision to substantially and impermissibly restrict historic and traditional access by designating only limited roads, trails and areas as open for motorized and mechanized vehicle use, and to prohibit such travel on roads, trails and areas so designated,” the complaint states. “These decisions and actions are formally presented through the November 2011 Record of Decision (ROD) and associated Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) and Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS).”
     The snowmobilers claim the roadless areas in Clearwater Forest have been at the center of social and political debate that has little to do with “bona fide physical resource components of ‘wilderness’ management.”
     Only Congress can designate an area as wilderness, and the groups say the Forest Service has overstepped its bounds. They claim that Congress directed the Forest Service to identify areas, which can include roadless areas, as candidates for wilderness designation, and that the Forest Service is using the directive to promote “subjective sociopolitical aspects of RWA [recommended wilderness area] management.”
     “Notwithstanding the lack of documented forest resource impacts attributed to snowmobiling in the Clearwater RWA’s, or even the meaningful presence of non-motorized winter visitors concerned about subjective ‘conflict’ in these areas, wilderness advocates within and outside of the Forest Service fear that continuing historic uses in RWA’s (i.e. snowmobiling, motorcycle riding and mountain biking) will stimulate opposition to wilderness designation by Congress,” the complaint states.
     “Wilderness advocates have made it a priority to eliminate such ‘nonconforming’ uses in and adjacent to areas targeted for eventual wilderness designation, particularly RWAs.”
     The snowmobilers say the 2011 Travel Plan essentially created wilderness without authorization of Congress.
     “The Clearwater Travel Plan imposed the equivalent of a wilderness management scheme on the four RWAs and prohibited almost all historic, pre-existing motorized and mechanized use,” the complaint states.
     The snowmobilers say the plan violates the National Forest Management Act, the Wilderness Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.
     They want a court to set aside the record of decision and travel plan.
     They are represented by Paul Turcke, with Moore Smith Buxton & Turcke.

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