The Helena group enters a legal fray over a forest displacement plan |

A US magistrate has approved a motion by a Helena-based group to intervene in a lawsuit brought against the US Forest Service challenging a 2016 travel plan regulating motorized road closures along the Continental Divide.

The Capital Trail Vehicle Association and Citizens for Balanced Use filed a lawsuit in February, calling some of the road closures illegal. The US Forest Service, Helena National Forest and Lewis and Clark National Forest Supervisor Emily Platt were among those charged.

Helena Hunters and Anglers Association has now intervened and joined the defendants, US Magistrate Judge Kathleen L. DeSoto ruled on May 31, noting that the plaintiffs did not object.

“We want to be in the fight and defend our position,” said Matt Bishop, an attorney at the Western Environmental Law Center, which represents Helena Hunters and Anglers.

He said the group wanted to make sure the Forest Service aggressively defended the split trip plan, which they thought was good overall.

“And if there are settlement discussions, we want a seat at the table,” Bishop said.

The Capital Trail Vehicle Association and Citizens for Balanced Use lawsuit filed Feb. 25 in U.S. District Court seeks relief from the closure of more than 100 miles of roads in the Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest by the Forest Service for motorized travel and scattered camping.

Then-Supervisor Forestry Bill Avey signed a Minutes of Decision March 1, 2016. The Forest Service began reviewing motorized use in the area in the early 2000s. In 2008, the agency sought public comment and in 2011 began preparing an environmental impact statement which resulted in the 2016 decision.

However, the plaintiff’s petition states that “the USFS ‘split trip plan’ has imposed significant restrictions on long-standing recreational access to Helena National Forest, including reducing vehicle access to engine of 45% of routes and routes.”

Helena Hunters and Anglers – an all-volunteer organization that focuses on conserving and restoring fish and wildlife to all suitable habitats and safeguarding all natural resources – said in a press release that they wanted to protect big game and habitat along the divide.

Member Doug Powell said in a Helena Hunters and Anglers press release that all types of recreation in the area have increased so much that wildlife is being moved to private land, especially during hunting season.

“Thus, by limiting movement routes along the divide as the movement plan does, the elk and other wildlife that live there will not be moved to areas with less hunting opportunities,” he said. he declared.

Forest resource values ​​and issues of particular concern to Helena Hunters include seasonal wildlife habitat requirements, reduction of redundant and dead-end travel routes, reduction of erosion and sedimentation that impact water quality and fish habitat, and maintaining quality hunting environments.

The Divide Voyage Plan has established 323 miles of motorized routes within the Divide Planning Area that vary from year-round to seasonal use. Helena Hunters and Anglers Association has been actively involved in Divide’s travel planning process.

Associate Editor Phil Drake can be reached at 406-231-9021.

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