Outdoors blog

Counties challenge Clearwater National Forest travel plan in court

Beargrass and pink mountain heather bloom during summer in the landscape along the Stateline Trail in the proposed Great Burn Wilderness, which is still evolving from the great forest fire of 1910. The proposed wilderness straddles the Montana-Idaho border southeast of Superior, Mont., in the Lolo and Clearwater National Forests. (Rich Landers)
Beargrass and pink mountain heather bloom during summer in the landscape along the Stateline Trail in the proposed Great Burn Wilderness, which is still evolving from the great forest fire of 1910. The proposed wilderness straddles the Montana-Idaho border southeast of Superior, Mont., in the Lolo and Clearwater National Forests. (Rich Landers)

PUBLIC LANDS -- A week after conservation groups filed a federal lawsuit against the new Clearwater National Forest Travel Management Plan, two Idaho counties have filed suit against the plan that closes 200 miles of national forest trails to motorized vehicles.

Idaho and Clearwater counties charge that forest officials failed to adequately consult with local authorities while drafting the travel plan enacted last year.

County officials also claim forest planners didn’t properly analyze the plan’s local economic impact and allege the forest created de facto wilderness areas by banning motorcycles and mountain bikes from areas previously recommended for wilderness.

“We thought we better take a stand,” Clearwater County Commissioner Don Ebert told The Lewiston Tribune. “We get ran over all the time by the Forest Service. We picked a battle where we think we are on solid ground and hope we will prevail.”

Forest officials did not offer an immediate response sought by The Associated Press today on the new legal challenge.

Commissioners from both counties say they were compelled to file a lawsuit after their administrative appeal of the travel plan was denied by the agency.

The lawsuit is the latest filed against the forest and its 2012 travel policy.

Last week, three environmental groups sued in federal court, contending the forest plan allows too much access for motorized vehicles, a policy they say will ultimately harm wildlife habitat. The environmental groups allege the travel plan violates a 1987 plan by allowing motorized vehicle use in areas the agency had pledged to protect as prime habitat for elk.

Federal laws require agencies like the Forest Service to coordinate their actions and plans with state and local governments.

The case brought by the counties alleges agency officials made little effort to coordinate the travel plan with the counties, who favor more motorized access when possible.

“We didn’t really see any attempt to do that,” Ebert told the Morning Tribune. “They just sort of disregarded us.”




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Rich Landers
Rich Landers writes and photographs stories for a wide range of outdoors coverage, including a Sunday feature section and a Thursday column. He also writes the Outdoors Blog.

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