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Federal lawsuit seeks reversal of U.S. Forest Service public access restrictions

Two groups of recreational interests and three individuals have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and its regional administrator in the U.S. Federal District Court for the District of Montana. The suit seeks declaratory and injunctive relief from the Forest Service’s closure of significant portions of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest (“HNF”) to motorized travel and dispersed camping.

The case is important to RVers because Forest Service administrative actions caused a total of 144 miles of roads within the HNF to be closed by the “Divide Travel Plan” promulgated by the agency. Dispersed camping, i.e., “boondocking,” would be severely impacted throughout the 2.8 million acres of the HNF.

The case involves the Capital Trail Vehicles Association (“CTVA”), a Montana outdoor recreation club, along with Citizens for Balanced Use (“CBU”), as well as Ken Salo, Jody Lewis, and Patricia Daugaard, all residents of Montana, against the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Helena National Forest, and Emily Platt, Forest Supervisor of the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest.

Plaintiffs CTVA and CBU represent recreation and public land access interests in Montana; the individual plaintiffs are recreation enthusiasts who use HNL lands and are also members of the organizations. Collectively, plaintiffs seek to obtain a court order to overturn the Forest Service decisions and policies resulting in the road closures and activities restrictions and have the federal government reimburse them for their attorneys’ cost and expenses associated with filing the action. The 37-page Petition for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief was filed in the U.S. Federal Court for the District of Montana in Helena on February 25, 2022.

The lawsuit cites violations of, among other things, the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”), the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”), the National Forest Management Act (“NFMA”), and the Multiple-Use Sustained Yield Act (“MUSYA”). As set forth in Title 16, U.S. Code, the latter two statutes explicitly provide that the U.S. Forest Service “…must balance competing demands in managing NFS lands.” In addition, the federal government, including the U.S. Supreme Court, has long held that “… It has never been the case that the national forests were…to be set aside for non-use.” (United States v. New Mexico, 438 U.S. 696, 716 n. 23 (1978))

The plaintiff’s petition states, “The USFS ‘Divide Travel Plan’ has imposed significant restrictions on long-existing recreational access to the Helena National Forest, including reducing motor vehicle access by 45 percent of roads and routes.” Other outdoor recreational interests like the Helena Hunters and Anglers Association (‘HHAA”) also oppose the Divide Travel Plan.

As when state and federal government agencies, particularly in the western U.S., have taken actions to close or restrict access by RVers and other campers arbitrarily, the outcome of this case could be crucial to the future of access and use of the public lands. Accordingly, RVtravel.com will monitor the progress of this case and others like it as they arise.

##RVT1045b

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Robert Love
5 months ago

That was an OK half-an-article. It would be fair (and informative to those who want a balanced discussion, not a one-sided half-argument) to give the USFS side — why did they close the areas? Did anyone bother to ask? Furthermore, a great addition would be a well-developed list of the pros and cons of EACH side — something beyond “… significant restrictions on long-existing recreational access to the Helena National Forest, including reducing motor vehicle access by 45 percent of roads and routes.” Without real 2-sided information, this sounds childish at best. [I originally wrote something a bit stronger, but in light of the rules … .] What is the data behind “significant restrictions” and “45% of roads and routes”? And what does it accomplish for the forest health, or for public use?

BILLY Bob Thronton
5 months ago
Reply to  Randall Brink

Yeah, Brink is right. The lawsuit is detailed in bringing action against the USFS. If those bureaucrats have over stepped their authority, as trustees of OUR lands, than have a federal court apply the law, as written. Thet better have legal authority to arbitrarily close access to OUR LAND, or be reprimanded for taking such action without legal grounds.

Forest
5 months ago

Forest Service needs a couple of drones and license plate readers and catch the culprits, either trashing the sites or tearing up trails that are not designated for ATV’s. Problem solved.

Diane M
5 months ago

Would be quite interested to know the why’s behind this action taken by the HNF. I expected the article might mention it. It may have more to do with ATV use than dispersed camping or none of the above.

Steve Murray
5 months ago

Only Solution is to Charge People for day Use/Camping Fees. People only learn to behave when their Wallets are tapped. 2% ruin if for everybody. Use the collected fees to Police and improve the areas and to Purchase Contiguous areas.
Honestly, so many damaging and littering entitled jerks out there and we all lose.
Charge them.

BILLY Bob Thronton
5 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Assessing another tax on the free lands we the people own, is NEVER a solution. If somebody(s) are up to some monkey business, then have the gun carrying rangers deal with em.

cee
5 months ago

What is wrong with your brain… Nothing is free!

BILLY Bob Thronton
5 months ago
Reply to  cee

Cee, cee cee ryder. There are several things that are free.

1. Being raised by your parents till at least the age of 12, that my friend didnt cost YOU a dime.
2. Your parents love of you is free.
3. I got more.

suzanne Ferris
5 months ago

We have seen the damage to the tree canopy done by the unrestricted access of ATV’s into areas near Bluett Pass near Red Top Mountain. The firs were destroyed by insect damage in the compacted soil. We were horrified by Pine Beetles. You who fish should be mad about Clearcutting and the destruction of fish runs it is directly linked to. Four wheel drive vehicles and huge rigs up in the US National forests are not helping that problem of run off into our rivers.

Tommy Molnar
5 months ago

“the U.S. Supreme Court, has long held that “… It has never been the case that the national forests were…to be set aside for non-use.”

I understand the frustration with people who don’t “pack it in, pack it out”. Like most claim here, we too pick up stuff left behind by care-less types. But, shutting down total access to anyplace is not only not the answer, but illegal. We’ve seen lately though, that illegal actions on the part of government entities mean nothing.

BILLY Bob Thronton
5 months ago
Reply to  Tommy Molnar

Well said Mr. Molnar. Lately, every politician who is lining his or her pockets, gets away scott free. We all know they should at least be presented to a Grand Jury, but nobody ever seems to face the music. The only politician who didn’t do a thing wrong, was run through the ringer, and it later turned out it was all a hoax. Payback is coming!

cee
5 months ago

Yes, definitely brain damage. I’d have that looked at.

BILLY Bob Thronton
5 months ago
Reply to  cee

Good point. But im not sure you can have Plug’s assessed for brain damage. There is the 25th Amendment though 🙂

Leslie P
5 months ago

After seeing how sites are left, human waste, garbage, broken bottles etc how can anyone blame them? It’s been so disheartening to witness the filth left behind. Along with the wildfire concerns for the campers that don’t use their fires responsibly. Something has to happen to stop the destruction. We have carried out full garbage bags but it’s just a drop in a huge problem. There isn’t enough manpower to stop it.

BILLY Bob Thronton
5 months ago
Reply to  Leslie P

Then why dont you step up and start a “friends of” organization for that specific forest land, ill assume you reside somewhere near such lands for purposes of this post. I have done countless hours of community service which includes, but is not limited to, community groups to help clean up public access lands, owned by us, the taxpayers.

Liz Pipes
5 months ago

Great idea! Friends of Bridger-Teton was recently formed and already has support of locals and supporting businesses.

BILLY Bob Thronton
5 months ago
Reply to  Liz Pipes

There ya go!

Heres the thing, if you think the government is suppose to fix the problems, look around boys and girls, things are a mess. So kudos to them.

Jesse Crouse
5 months ago

If what and how some people leave RV sites where there is some supervision-RV parks- has any one asked if there have been issues with people not respecting how they found the dispersed sites. People are generally becoming pigs. I have cleaned up after them.

Traveler
5 months ago

Before you get real jumping up and down, do you really take your $100,000 rv rig up logging/mining roads real often? We’re not talking “roads” in what you’re thinking here. Do your own investigation.

Spike
5 months ago
Reply to  Traveler

Robin Williams did!!! 🙂

BILLY Bob Thronton
5 months ago
Reply to  Spike

I loved that movie 🙂

Eddie Fort
5 months ago
Reply to  Traveler

Absolutely! Our 4×4 truck camper cost well North of $100k and we bought it expressly to travel on paths like this that have been closed…We enjoy being as remote as possible as do many. Do your own investigation…

BILLY Bob Thronton
5 months ago
Reply to  Eddie Fort

I think he was talking about Willie Nelson tour bus types. But some of the off road campers now are bad a__. One knows that those guys are protective of the back country.

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