The US Magistrate has approved a Helena group’s motion to intervene in a lawsuit against the US Forest Service challenging a 2016 travel plan governing the closure of motorized routes along the Continental Divide.
In February, the Capital Trail Vehicle Association and Citizens for Balanced Use filed a lawsuit, calling some of the route closures illegal. The defendants included the US Forest Service, Helena National Forest, and Lewis and Clark National Forest Inspector Emily Platt.
The Helena Hunters and Fishers Association has now intervened and is joining the defendants, U.S. Magistrate Kathleen L. DeSoto ruled on May 31, noting that the plaintiffs had no objection.
“We want to be in the fight and stand our ground,” said Matt Bishop, an attorney at the Western Center for Environmental Law who represents Helena Hunters and Anglers.
He said the group wanted the Forest Service to actively advocate for the separation travel plan, which they felt was generally good.
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“And if there are discussions on a settlement, we want to take a seat at the table,” Bishop said.
The suit was filed in February by the Capital Trail Vehicle Association and Citizens for Balanced Use. 25 in U.S. District Court seeks relief with the Forest Service closing more than 100 miles of roads in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest to motorized travel and dispersed camping.
On March 1, 2016, then Forest Inspector Bill Avey signed the minutes of the decision. The Forest Service began looking into the use of motorized vehicles in the area in the early 2000s. In 2008, the agency solicited public opinion, and in 2011 began preparing an environmental impact report that culminated in a 2016 decision.
However, the plaintiff’s petition states, “The USFS Trip Sharing Plan has placed significant restrictions on long-standing recreational access to Helena National Forest, including reducing vehicular access by 45 percent of roads and routes.”
Helena Hunters and Anglers, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to the conservation and restoration of fish and wildlife in all suitable habitats and the protection of all natural resources, said in a press release that it wants to protect big game and habitat along the Watershed .
Contributor Doug Powell said in a Helena Hunters and Anglers press release that all forms of recreation in the area have expanded so much that wildlife is being forced onto private land, especially during hunting season.
“Thus, by limiting the movement routes along the watershed, as provided for in the movement plan, moose and other wildlife living there will not be moved to areas where there are fewer opportunities for hunting,” he said.
The values of forest resources and issues of particular concern to Helena Hunters…