By Sonya Angelica Diehn
Courthouse News Service
BOZEMAN, Mont. - Snowmobile drivers challenged closure of lands in Montana's Gallatin National Forest. The federal complaint is the latest in an array of lawsuits on both sides of the issue in Wyoming and Montana.
Citizens for Balanced Use claims the Forest Service violated the Montana Wilderness Study Act with its November, 2009, order prohibiting snowmobiles in most of the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area.
The Act authorized motorized vehicle use in the 155,000-acre area in 1977, the group claims. The group also cites a Forest Service study from 1985 that recommended that the area not be given wilderness status, which would prohibit motorized recreation.
Snowmobilers and environmentalists have filed at least nine lawsuits in the past 3 years over snowmobiles in Montana and Wyoming. The snowmobilers are somewhat more sue-happy, with six of these to their count.
Environmental lawsuits filed over winter recreation in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks were resolved late last year when the Obama administration issued a rule that reduced the number of snowmobiles allowed per day.
A federal judge in Montana decided in March that the Forest Service overstepped its authority in prohibiting snowmobile use on almost half a million acres in the Lewis and Clark National Forest.
The court ruled that the travel plan amendment violated the National Environmental Policy Act and the Montana Wilderness Study Act. U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon agreed that the state wilderness act stipulates preservation of the 1977 rule allowing recreational vehicle use.
The new lawsuit piggybacks on the legal success of the Russell Country Sportsmen and other off-road vehicle enthusiasts, who prevailed in March. Their lawsuit was filed in September 2008.
Represented by Catherine Laughner of Browning, Kaleczyc, Berry & Hoven, Citizens for Balanced Use seeks an injunction invalidating the prohibition in the Gallatin National Forest.