By Annie Youderian
A federal judge in Montana has lifted bans and seasonal restrictions on more than 40 roads and trails in Lewis and Clark National Forest, after the U.S. Forest Service reached a compromise with snowmobilers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts.
The Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association and eight other groups suedthe Forest Service in 2008, challenging its decision to restrict motorized access to 1,600 miles of roads and trails in the 1.8 million-acre national forest and to bar snowmobiles from about 436,000 acres.
The groups said the 2007 travel plan unfairly barred off-road vehicles from 45 percent of previously open roads and trails, and from more than half of the snowmobile trails they once enjoyed.
U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon ordered portions of the 2007 plan to revert to a less restrictive travel plan adopted in 1998. But as part of the compromise, most of the restrictions for the eastern half of the Lewis and Clark National Forest, called the Jefferson Division, will remain intact.
The travel plan affects roads and trails in the Little Belt, Castle and Crazy mountains; the Middle Fork of the Judith River Wilderness Study Area; and the Deep Creek Park area west of Monarch, Mont.