PUBLIC LANDS -- A coalition of conservationists today requested to intervene in a lawsuit filed by snowmobilers challenging wilderness provisions in the Kootenai and Idaho Panhandle national forest plans.
The snowmobilers' lawsuit seeks to overturn restrictions on motorized use in recommended wilderness areas.
"At issue are the Forest Service’s 2015 revised forest management plans for the two forests, which recommended certain rugged and unspoiled areas for wilderness designation," says a statement by Earthjustice, which has filed the request to intervene.
"Motorized use is prohibited within their boundaries to protect wild character, and preserve the opportunity for permanent protection under the Wilderness Act. Snowmobile interest groups filed a lawsuit in November 2015 that asks a federal judge to overturn these recommended wilderness designations, and open the protected areas to motorized use by snowmobiles and four-wheelers.
“Snowmobilers already have access to 86 percent of the Kootenai forest and 70 percent of the Idaho Panhandle forest,” said Earthjustice attorney Tim Preso, who is representing the six conservation groups.
“We are standing up to defend the peace and solitude of the last pockets of wilderness-quality lands in these otherwise heavily logged and motorized forests.”
The conservation coalition includes Winter Wildlands Alliance, Panhandle Nordic Club, Idaho Conservation League and Montana Wilderness Association.
Snowmobiling groups involved filing the lawsuit include Ten Lakes Snowmobile Club, Montanans for Multiple Use, Citizens for Balanced Use, the Glen Lake Irrigation District, Backcountry Sled Patriots, the Idaho State Snowmobile Association and the Blueribbon Coalition.
“The criteria and procedures used for determining wilderness suitability in the Forest Plans Revision process were vague, subjective, internally contradictory and not rationally connected to the factors established by Congress and/or the Forest Service Handbook in determining the suitability of any area for possible designation as Wilderness,” Ten Lakes attorney Paul Turcke wrote. “Even where some of the Wilderness suitability evaluation criteria were correctly identified, those criteria were applied in the Revised Forest Plans process in an arbitrary manner.”
The suit specifically named the Roderick and Scotchman Peaks recommended wilderness areas as examples of what Turcke calls a sloppy process.