Court Upholds Lolo Snowmobile and ORV Closure

A year ago the Lolo National Forest Supervisor, Chuck Wildes, ordered the closure of some 400,000 acres of the Lolo National Forest, especially the Great Burn and other Statelier area roadless areas, to snowmobiling and ORV use.  Wildes acted to uphold the standards plainly stated in the 1986 Forest Plan that closed roadless areas in two management areas, MA 11 and 12, to motorized use.   The travel maps for the Lolo mistakenly indicated that many of these areas were open for at least snowmobile use.

Following the Wildes  closure notice, the snowmobilers and the Blue Ribbon Coalition sued the Lolo to force the areas to be reopened at least until site specific NEPA could be done.  Sierra Club, together with Montana Wilderness Association and Friends of the Bitterroot, intervened on the side of the Forest Service to argue the validity of the closure order.

In a ground-breaking decision, Judge Malloy of the Missoula Federal District Court upheld the Lolo closure.  Importantly, the judge ruled that 1) forest plan provisions closing areas to ORV use are final at the conclusion of the forest planning process, 2) that the closure did nít require more NEPA because it simply enforced the terms of the Plan  and 3) that mistakes in the travel maps did not  create any rights or privileges in ORV users when the Forest Plan specifically closes the area to motorized access.  

Our success in this suit underscores the importance of  active involvement in the forest planning process.  The Lolo will be revising its forest plan beginning this fall.  Sierra Club will continue to work for protection of these roadless lands, but we will need your help.  Stay tuned for how you can help. (Len Broberg, Missoula)

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