LEWISTON, Idaho — Two northern Idaho counties have filed a federal lawsuit against a plan that closed off 200 miles of national forest trails to motorized vehicles.
The lawsuit filed Monday by Idaho and Clearwater counties accuses Clearwater National Forest officials of failing to adequately consult with local authorities while drafting the travel plan enacted last year.
County officials also claim forest planners didn’t properly analyze the plan’s local economic impact and allege the forest created de facto wilderness areas by banning motorcycles and mountain bikes from areas previously recommended for wilderness.
“We thought we better take a stand,” Clearwater County Commissioner Don Ebert told The Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/1bA6PyL). “We get ran over all the time by the Forest Service. We picked a battle where we think we are on solid ground and hope we will prevail.”
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Forest spokeswoman Liz Slown said the agency stands behind its travel plan and the process used to update it. The agency declined to comment on the latest legal challenge.
“The Forest Service conducts a forest-wide travel planning effort both to implement the national travel management rule and ensure motorized travel is consistent with our management direction for wildlife and fisheries,” according to a statement provided to The Associated Press Tuesday. “We develop our decisions with input from the public. In terms of specifics to the litigation, the Forest Service does not comment on pending cases.”
Commissioners from both counties say they were compelled to file a lawsuit after the agency denied their administrative appeal of the travel plan.
The lawsuit is the latest filed against the forest and its 2012 travel policy.
Last week, three environmental groups sued in federal court, contending the forest plan allows too much access for motorized vehicles, a policy they say will ultimately harm wildlife habitat. The environmental groups allege the travel plan violates a 1987 plan by allowing motorized vehicle use in areas the agency had pledged to protect as prime habitat for elk.
Federal laws require agencies such as the Forest Service to coordinate their actions and plans with state and local governments.
The case brought by the counties alleges agency officials made little effort to coordinate the travel plan with the counties, who favor more motorized access when possible.
“We didn’t really see any attempt to do that,” Ebert said. “They just sort of disregarded us.”