News Release, November 21, 2000

Contact:
John Gatchell, Montana Wilderness Association (406) 443-7350
Sara Folger, Predator Conservation Alliance (406) 587 3389

Conservationists Work to Maintain Natural Character of Our National Forests

Montana conservationists filed suit today in federal district court charging the Bitterroot and Clearwater National Forests with breaking the law by allowing all-terrain vehicle (ATV) traffic to drive on forest trails and within the Great Burn recommended wilderness.

The Montana Wilderness Association (MWA), Great Burn Study Group and Predator Conservation Alliance are asking the courts to order the Bitterroot and Clearwater National Forests to enforce existing rules preventing ATVs from driving on forest trails.

The Bitterroot and Clearwater National Forest Plans, adopted in 1987, incorporated existing national forest trail standards precluding vehicles over 40 inches wide from damaging forest trails. In addition, the Clearwater National Forest promised to keep 4-wheel vehicles off forest trails and pledged to maintain the natural character of the Great Burn recommended wilderness. Neither National Forest has amended its forest plan or asked the public for permission to convert quiet forest trails built for foot and horse use into ATV roads.

"Hunters and anglers are losing backcountry hunting and fishing opportunities as illegal ATV traffic spreads into remote elk habitat and mountain lakes," said MWA Bitterroot spokesman John Grove. "We have filed this suit to protect long-standing outdoor traditions."

"When he was Forest Supervisor, Bob Morgan promised the Bitterroot would keep 4-wheelers off forest trails. This promise is repeatedly being broken," said Grove. "As a result, forest trails in the Sapphire and Bitterroot Mountains are degenerating into rutted, eroding ATV roads. "

U.S. Forest Service trail standards call for 12- to 24-inch tread width for foot, pack-and-saddle or bike trails. To accommodate single-lane ATV traffic, U.S. Forest Service standards require a small road approximately five- to eight-feet wide. When allowed to drive down forest trails 12- to 24 inches wide, ATVs destroy vegetation, and churn narrow trails into muddied, sprawling vehicle roads or "troads" five- to 10 feet wide.

"Driving 48-inch wide, 4-wheel vehicles on 20-inch forest trails damages native plants, destroys trails and spreads noxious weeds which impact wildlife species such as wolverine, fisher and lynx, " said Shawn Regnerus of Predator Conservation Alliance.

ATV traffic also displaces other trail users and degrades the primitive and semi-primitive character of surrounding lands.

Regnerus stated, "The Clearwater Forest has violated its forest plan by converting trails into ATV highways and primitive backcountry lakes into drive-in ATV areas within the Great Burn recommended wilderness."

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