Judge sides with Forest Service on controversial wilderness study area

2012-06-26T00:00:00Z 2012-06-26T08:44:04Z Judge sides with Forest Service on controversial wilderness study areaGazette Staff The Billings Gazette

A federal judge has denied a motorized group’s lawsuit challenging the Gallatin National Forest’s implementation of more restrictive snowmobiling rules in a wilderness study area.

Federal Judge Sam Haddon ruled Monday that the Forest Service did not violate the Montana Wilderness Study Act of 1977 when it enhanced the wilderness characteristics of the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn wilderness study area south of Bozeman.

Haddon cited a previous case that went to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in his decision, saying the court squarely addressed and resolved the issue with its 2011 ruling.

Citizens for Balanced Use had argued that the Forest Service could only maintain the character of the WSA, not enhance it.

The travel plan that the Gallatin National Forest drew up in 2006 for the wilderness study area has been controversial. Wilderness groups initially sued over allowing too much motorized and mountain bike use. They won their suit, the Gallatin restricted motorized and mountain bike use, and then Citizens for Balanced Use sued, claiming they had been unfairly treated.

“We need a durable process now that can put these court cases behind us and get the Gallatin Range the permanent solution it deserves,” said Al Parker, a Bozeman Montana Wilderness Association member.

"The Gallatin Forest is pleased with Judge Haddon's ruling," wrote Marna Daley, public affairs officer for the Gallatin in an email. "We still believe the best approach to determining the long-term management of the Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn Wilderness Study Area is to first bring the community together in a collaborative process to recommend a management scenario for the area."

Daley added that any recommendation would still need to be analyzed formally or determined through congressional action.

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