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Three conservation groups challenge Clearwater National Forest Travel Plan

For Immediate Release:

For More Information Contact:
Gary Macfarlane, Friends of the Clearwater

Mike Garrity, Alliance for the Wild Rockies

Al Poplawsky, Palouse Group Sierra Club

David Bahr, Bahr Law Offices

December 5, 2013

Moscow–Three conservation groups, Friends of the Clearwater, Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Sierra Club filed a lawsuit on December 5th in Idaho Federal District Court against the Forest Service for their Clearwater National Forest Travel Plan. The travel plan determines which trails and roads will be open to motorized vehicles and which areas of the national forest will be open to snowmobiles. However, the plan did defer until later the decision on the ultimate size and extent of the road system.

The plaintiffs contend that rather than protect key wildlife habitat and wild areas, as prescribed in the forest plan, the travel plan allows motorized vehicles to enter sensitive wildlife habitat in the backcountry on trails not designed for motorized use. The organizations also contend that the travel plan does not minimize summer or winter off-road vehicle damage, nor does it minimize damage to wildlife habitat, watersheds or quiet recreation.

The purpose of the 1987 Clearwater National Forest plan was to protect the natural resources of the forest. The plan set up specific standards for the protection of wildlife in certain backcountry areas. Gary Macfarlane of Friends of the Clearwater observes that, “Since then, motorized vehicles have been essentially unregulated on backcountry trails, severely degrading both terrestrial and aquatic habitat. Roadless areas that are prime wilderness candidates, including Weitas Creek and Pot Mountain, have been overrun with motorized use.”

The effects of vehicles on wildlife are well documented. “This travel plan negatively affects wildlife corridors in what should be one of the wildest areas in the lower 48 states. Genetic evidence shows that the grizzly illegally killed a few years ago in the North Fork Clearwater came from the Selkirks. If grizzlies are to recover in the Clearwater, they need safe habitat away from motor vehicles,” stated Mike Garrity of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

The plaintiffs note that the Forest Service did not even fully protect its paltry recommended wilderness from motorized vehicles. Al Poplawsky of the Sierra Club stated, “Even the biologically unique Fish Lake in Kelly Creek, an area recommended for wilderness by the Forest Service, was not protected from vehicle use. The resource damage from vehicle use in this area has been so serious that the Forest Service has had to close the trail during wet periods in recent years. The trail to the lake and areas around the lake are littered with vehicle parts and broken glass. It would make more sense to just close the entire area to vehicle use.”

Dave Bahr, attorney for the organizations stated, ”federal courts, indeed the Forest Service’s own regulations, expressly require the Agency to minimize motorized use impacts. Sadly, this travel plan fails on that count – all across the board.”