Agencies Sued for Restricting Recreational Vehicle Use in the Helena National Forest

On Friday, Capita Trail Vehicle Association, Citizens for Balanced Use, and three individuals filed a complaint in the District of Montana against the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Helena National Forest, and its Forest Supervisor, alleging violations of the Administrative Procedure Act, the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. 

According to the complaint, the Capita Trail Vehicle Association and Citizens for Balanced Use are Montana nonprofits formed to preserve and protect recreational access to public lands with over 2,000 individual members combined. The complaint further states both organizations work with the National Forest Services and other state and federal agencies to manage motorized and non-motorized travel and enhance public access to lands within national forests including the Helena National Forest. Plaintiffs Ken Salo, Judy Loomis and Patricia Daugaard are Montana citizens and members of the Capita Trail Vehicle Association, Citizens for Balanced Use or both organizations. 

The complaint states that on March 1, 2016, the U.S. Forest Service signed the Divide Travel Management Record of Decision which made significant changes to the existing motorized public access routes and enacted prohibitions for wheeled and over-snow motorized vehicles on public lands with the Helena National Forest.  The plaintiffs purport that the Record of Decision approved the closure of about 45 percent of the previously existing mileage for trails and roads despite the trials being in good condition and not causing damage to the landscape. 

The plaintiffs argue the Record of Decision constitutes a clear case of the U.S. Forest Service failing to maintain and protect public access to the Helena National Forest. Further, the plaintiffs allege the Record of Decision is based on a flawed implementation of the Forest Service’s 2005 Travel Management Rule because it failed to properly analyze the environmental and social impacts of its decision to shut off motorized and recreational access to public lands. The complaint argues the 2005 Travel Management Rule specifically recognized that most National Forest visitors use motor vehicles to access the forest, and motor vehicle travel is an integral part of their recreational experience, which was ignored when promulgating the Record of Decision. 

Accordingly, the plaintiffs challenge the Record of Decision alleging violation of the National Environmental Policy Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Administrative Procedure Act and the Travel Management Rule, the decision was arbitrary and capricious under the National Forest Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, the Forest Services cumulative impact analysis is deficient and illegal restrictions on dispersed campsites. For these alleged violations, the plaintiffs seek declaratory and injunctive relief, attorney’s fees and costs.

The plaintiffs are represented by the James Brown Law Office, PLLC