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.