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September 4, 2012
Recreation Groups File Suit To Stop Illegal Wilderness
Boise, ID -- Two leading Idaho-based recreation organizations have sued the United States Forest Service, challenging the Clearwater National Forest's decision to impose the same public use restrictions on areas they have recommended for possible Wilderness classification as one would find in lands actually designated by Congress.
"Only Congress can designate Wilderness," Sandra Mitchell, Public Lands Director of the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, the lead plaintiff, said. "For many years we have heard rumors the Northern Region was going to start illegally limiting their management options in potential Wilderness areas, effectively creating a new system of administratively designated Wilderness. In the Clearwater Travel Plan they have followed through on that vision. We cannot stand idly by and watch them change the long-established system for managing these treasured lands."
"The Northern Region's guidance to its National Forests
contradicts not only the law but the reality of modern-day Wilderness,"
Brian Hawthorne, Public Lands Policy Director of the BlueRibbon Coalition, a
co-plaintiff in the suit, said. "Any Wilderness designation today
will necessarily be a creative balance that allows a variety of uses that would
be prohibited under a pure reading of the 1964 Wilderness Act. Congress
has allowed energy and water developments, military overflights, or continuing
motorized access in dozens of Wilderness bills. This illegal imposition of
a 'pure' Wilderness standard for public use of proposed Wilderness areas on the
The suit particularly focuses on management of the "Great Burn" area near the Idaho-Montana border. That area has been a popular snowmobiling destination for decades, and, prior to issuance of the Travel Plan, also received occasional motorcycle and mountain bike use. None of these activities are allowed by the Wilderness Act, unless specifically authorized in a particular piece of legislation.
Yet with these uses the Great Burn area has always received "high" ratings for Wilderness attributes in all assessments undertaken by the Forest Service. There is no documentation of resource impacts or other threats to Wilderness character from existing recreation activities that would limit Congressional discretion should Congress ever decide to formally designate it as Wilderness.
The case is entitled Idaho State Snowmobile Ass'n v. U.S. Forest Service, Case No. CV-09-2523. A copy of the recreation groups' complaint may be viewed HERE.
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