Submitted by tsm1 on Wed, 01/08/2003 - 11:26


For Information Contact:
Paul Turcke 208-331-1807
Bill Dart 800-258-3742 x102

SAN FRANCISCO, CA. In a victory for the U.S. Forest Service and off-highway vehicle ("OHV") advocates, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today reversed a lower court decision involving off-highway vehicle ("OHV") access to Montana National Forests. The suit involved Forest Service Wilderness Study Areas created by the Montana Wilderness Study Act of 1977. Originally filed in 1996 by the Montana Wilderness Association and other organizations, the suit claimed that the agency was failing to take action to restrict OHV access and had illegally allowed OHV-friendly trail improvements. The Montana district court granted summary judgment and decided the case in favor of the Wilderness Associations. The Forest Service and access advocacy groups led by the BlueRibbon Coalition appealed the district court decision.

The Ninth Circuit decision reverses the district court and remands the case for a trial to determine whether the Forest Service has managed the Montana Wilderness Study Areas ("WSAs") so as "to maintain their wilderness character and potential for inclusion in the Wilderness System" as required by the 1977 Act. The Wilderness Associations argued that continued OHV access to the areas and trail projects violated this standard, while the OHV groups and the Forest Service countered that the WSAs retain their character even with ongoing OHV use and active management steps have left these areas in better shape today than in 1977. The Appeals Court found that a material issue of fact remained as to the "wilderness character" of the areas, which precluded an award of summary judgment for either side. Circuit Judge Stephen S. Trott, writing for the unanimous three-judge panel, thus remanded the case for a trial on the "wilderness character" issue.

"It is a little unclear how a "wilderness trial" might proceed but we are confident that the Wilderness advocates will proclaim these areas every bit as deserving of Wilderness protection now as they were in 1977," stated Paul Turcke, a Boise, Idaho, attorney who represented the OHV groups. "We are pleased with this decision, and are glad we will have a chance to prove that proper WSA management need not exclude motorized access," Turcke concluded.

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The BlueRibbon Coalition is a national recreation group that champions responsible use of public and private lands. It represents over 1,100 organization and businesses with approximately 600,000 members.