National Forest Flawed
On March 10, the U.S. District Court for the District of Montana ruled that the 2007 Travel Management Plan issued by the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Montana violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Montana Wilderness Study Act (MWSA).
The Specialty Vehicle Institute of America (SVIA) and the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC) had joined a coalition of recreation groups in filing a lawsuit challenging the Plan.
SVIA and MIC general counsel Paul Vitrano commented, "We are pleased with the ruling. It shows that when agencies overstep their legal authority OHV enthusiasts and industry can not only get our voices heard, but we can impact the process."
The lawsuit challenged the Travel Management Plan covering part of the Lewis and Clark National Forest. The final plan developed by the Forest reduced access for off-highway vehicles (OHV) by over 50% and placed more of the Forest off-limits to OHVs than any alternative that had been proposed.
The Court ruled the plan was a violation because NEPA requires that all reasonable alternatives be presented in a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS).
The Court wrote in its opinion: "The [Forest's] final decision was not discussed in the DEIS as an alternative and was not a blend of DEIS alternatives. Rather, it created a unique and separate alternative. Not only was the unexamined alternative viable and reasonable in the eyes of the Forest, it was chosen as the final agency decision."
The Court also found that the travel plan, which would have eliminated two-thirds of the previously available motorized routes in the Middle Fork Wilderness Study Area, violated the MWSA. The MWSA directed the Forest to maintain the wilderness character of the study area as it existed when the Act was enacted, 1977.
The Court wrote: "To the extent the wilderness character was there in 1977, it was to be maintained. To the extent the wilderness character was lacking in 1977, it was not to be imposed."
The Lewis and Clark developed the plan in an effort to implement the national Travel Management Rule finalized by the U.S. Forest Service in November 2005. The rule requires each Forest to undergo processes to designate roads, trails, and areas that are open to motor vehicles.
MIC and SVIA senior vice president, Kathy Van Kleeck said, "We believe the Court made the correct ruling in this case; however, it is important to note that the industry continues to support the Travel Management Rule, as well as efforts by the Forest Service to effectively manage OHV use. In every case we hope that collaborative processes will result in equitable plans, but in some cases, like the Lewis and Clark, it is necessary to take additional measures."
The suit was filed by the Russell Country Sportsmen, Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association, Great Falls Trail Bike Riders Association, Great Falls Snowmobile Club, Meagher County Little Belters, Treasure State Alliance, Motorcycle Industry Council, Specialty Vehicle Institute of America, and BlueRibbon Coalition. Representing the plaintiffs are Paul Turcke of Boise, Idaho, Bill Horn of Washington, D.C., and Rob Cameron of Helena, Montana.
The Motorcycle Industry Council exists to preserve, protect and promote motorcycling through government relations, communications and media relations, statistics and research, aftermarket programs, development of data communications standards, and activities surrounding technical and regulatory issues.
It is a not-for-profit, national industry association representing manufacturers and distributors of motorcycles, scooters, motorcycle/ATV/ROV parts and accessories, and members of allied trades such as insurance, finance and investment companies, media companies and consultants.
The MIC is headquartered in Irvine, Calif., with a government relations office adjacent to Washington, D.C. First called the MIC in 1970, the organization has been in operation since 1914. Visit the MIC at mic.org.
The Specialty Vehicle Institute of America promotes the safe and responsible use of all-terrain vehicles through rider training, public awareness campaigns and state legislation. Additionally, the SVIA works to preserve access to off-road lands and expand riding opportunities.
The SVIA is a resource for ATV research, statistics and vehicle standards. Accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), the SVIA develops standards for the equipment, configuration and performance requirements of ATVs.
Based in Irvine, Calif., the SVIA is a not-for-profit industry association sponsored by Arctic Cat, BRP, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, KYMCO, Polaris, Suzuki, Tomberlin and Yamaha. Visit the SVIA online at svia.org. For safety information or to enroll in the ATV RiderCourseSM nearest you, visit atvsafety.org or call (800) 887-2887.