Recreation Groups Cheer Circuit Court Victory

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January 08, 2014 5:00 PM

BILLINGS, MT (January 8, 2014) -- Recreation groups are thrilled by a just-released Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision upholding the validity of the Custer National Forest’s Beartooth Ranger District Travel Management Plan. The Plan was released in 2008 to designate routes for motorized access in the Beartooth Ranger District, which includes the Pryor Mountains, in south-central Montana. Despite the Plan’s numerous restrictions on long-existing motorized access, it was challenged in federal court by the Pryors Coalition, an assortment of nonprofit organizations and individuals including Wildlands CPR and local chapters of the Montana Wilderness Association, Audubon Society and Backcountry Horsemen. The Coalition’s suit was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Richard F. Cebull. The Coalition appealed, and their appeal was heard on December 4, 2013 before a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which included retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor sitting by designation. The Ninth Circuit released its memorandum decision on January 7, 2014, affirming the district court and leaving the Travel Plan in place.

“This decision validates our patience and hard work on this project defending the sound management of a treasured place on our public lands,” said Bruce Reierson, of the Treasure State ATV Association. “We are still frustrated by some of the closures in this plan, but are encouraged that aggressive preservationists’ efforts to second-guess the Forest Service were not rewarded here by our courts,” added Mona Ehnes of the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association.

“This decision has some strong and intriguing language, particularly on the hot topic of ‘minimizing’ impacts of vehicle use and the 40 year old Executive Orders from which that duty supposedly emanates,” noted Paul Turcke, an attorney for the recreation groups. “In candor, we have suffered a number of frustrating decisions at the district court level on the minimization issue. We hope that a circuit court decision, reflecting the intellect and wisdom of a retired Supreme Court Justice, might foreshadow a positive turn as our overburdened and underbudgeted Forest Service addresses the challenge of managing recreation on our public lands,” Turcke concluded.

The recreation groups intervening in the case to assist in defense of the Forest Service decision included the Treasure State ATV Association, the Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association, the Great Falls Trail Bike Riders Association, Families for Outdoor Recreation, Citizens for Balanced Use, and the BlueRibbon Coalition. The recreation groups were represented by Paul Turcke of Boise, Idaho, and Rob Bell of Missoula.

A copy of the Ninth Circuit decision can be viewed at:
http://www.sharetrails.org/uploads/54-1-Memorandum_decision_01.07.14.pdf

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The BlueRibbon Coalition is a national recreation group that champions responsible recreation, and encourages individual environmental stewardship. With members in all 50 states, BRC is focused on building enthusiast involvement with organizational efforts through membership, outreach, education, and collaboration among recreationists. The Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) season is here. Federal employees, please mark BlueRibbon Coalition and Check #11402 on your CFC pledge form to support our efforts to protect your access. Join us at 1-800-258-3742 or http://www.sharetrails.org.

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