More Shots Fired In Snowmobile Wars

News By Philip A. Janquart, Courthouse News

Moscow, Idaho - Four days after environmentalists sued Uncle Sam for opening up 3,000 miles of trails to motorized vehicles in Clearwater National Forest, two Idaho counties have gone to court demanding that 200 more miles be opened.

Clearwater and Idaho Counties sued the U.S. Forest Service in Federal Court, claiming their residents will lose jobs, money and recreational opportunities under the government's plan.

Three environmental groups sued the Forest Service last week, claiming its approval of 3,000 miles of off-road vehicle trails will "have significant, negative impacts on practically every aspect of the natural environment."

Now, the two counties claim the Forest Service's Record of Decision (ROD) for its November, 2011 Travel Management Plan illegally wipes out 200 miles of trails previously open to motorized vehicles. The counties claim it also designates portions of the forest as de-facto wilderness without Congressional approval.

The plan prohibits the use of snowmobiles and other off-road vehicles (ORVs) in designated areas. This will affect timber harvesting, which will derail local economies, the counties say.

Clearwater County claims the forest provides almost three-quarters of its employment.

"The forest provides a significant portion of the revenue, both through recreation and timber harvest, which results in a significant portion of the tax base supporting Clearwater County and Idaho County," the complaint states.

The Travel Management Plan was developed without consideration for the counties' own land use plans, as required by federal law, the lawsuit states. It creates a "de-facto" wilderness out of Recommended Wilderness Areas (RWAs) based on "insufficient" and "non-existent" data from the Forest Service's Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), the counties say.

"At no point in the ROD, or the EIS ... does it appear that the Forest [Service] sought any studies or information relating to actual trail or road use in RWAs, nor is there any comparison of motorized use of trails and roads between the RWAs as existed at the time of the Clearwater Forest Plan compared to now," the complaint states.

The counties claim the Forest Service is making decisions it is not authorized to make.

"The Clearwater Forest Plan recommends management of RWAs to prevent changes in character. It does not provide the forest supervisor the authority to force changes in character so that RWAs are managed as actual wilderness without a designation of wilderness having been made by Congress," the complaint states.

In the previous lawsuit, the environmental groups claimed that the same documents designate too many miles for off-road vehicles use.

They claim that ORVs "degrade air and water quality; impair others' ability to enjoy natural sights, sounds and smells; and create safety hazards - for motorized travelers themselves and others."

The counties say the Forest Service violated the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the National Forest Management Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Administrative Procedures Act.

The environmentalists challenged the plan under the last three of those laws.

The counties are represented county attorneys E. Clayne Tyler, for Clearwater County, in Orofino, and Kirk MacGregor for Idaho County, in Grangeville.

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