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Motorized groups sue Clearwater

The landscape around an unnamed lake in the proposed Great Burn Wilderness 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)
In the backcountry south of Superior, Mont., Upper Siamese Lake snugs against the Idaho border in the Lolo National Forest along the Stateline Trail. The lake is within an area proposed for designation as the Great Burn Wilderness. The wildflower in the foreground is yellow buckwheat. (Rich Landers / The Spokesman-Review)

BOISE – Two motorized user groups suing over a new travel plan for a wilderness study area on the Idaho and Montana border argue that the U.S. Forest Service overstepped its authority.

The Blue Ribbon Coalition and the Idaho Snowmobile Association are challenging the Clearwater National Forest’s decision to ban motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles and mountain bikes in the Great Burn wilderness study area.

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

The Great Burn area has been a popular snowmobiling destination for decades but has received minimal motorcycle and mountain bike use. The Forest Service’s Northern Region, headquartered in Missoula, has wrongly kept motorized users out of wilderness study areas in its forests, opponents argued.

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

But Wilderness advocates have long pointed to the agency’s unwillingness to keep motorized users out of study areas as a failure to protect their wilderness character. Environmentalists argue the wilderness character is an appropriate multiple use that needs to be preserved.

“I see this as full frontal assault on wilderness,” said Brad Brooks, deputy regional director of the Wilderness Society in Boise. “They are making essentially the argument that the Forest Service doesn’t have the power to protect wilderness character as a multiple use of public lands.”


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