Mountain Bikers and State Intervene in Ten Mile- South Helena Project

Helena District Ranger Heather DeGeest, center, talks about the use of existing roads in inventoried roadless areas to reduce fuels by logging and prescribed fire.
TOM KUGLIN, Independent Record

Lourenço Marques posted this as a comment:
He had seen this on FB.

Today the Montana Bicycle Guild, Inc., filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court brought by Helena Hunters & Anglers and Montana Wildlife Federation against the U.S. Forest Service. The MBG is intervening to support the Forest Service’s decision on the Ten Mile-South Helena Project and to protect the interests of mountain bikers.

“As part of the post-disturbance restoration for this project, the Forest Service adopted several long-established trails into the trail system inventory and also approved the construction of three new thoroughly vetted and needed trails.

“The lawsuit brought by Helena Hunters & Anglers and Montana Wildlife Federation challenges the incorporation of existing trails into the inventoried system. Their lawsuit also seeks to prevent two of the new trails in this area from being built. . . .

“This would end-run years of work and collaboration to impose a de facto ban of bicycles from every trail in this area targeted by their lawsuit. If the Helena Hunters & Anglers and Montana Wildlife Federation lawsuit is successful, the bicycling community would suffer a major loss and be banned from this entire area.

“This project doesn’t only impact bikers—every public land user would lose a couple of well-thought-out new trails that is the result of numerous people and groups working together for many years, including the MBG, to plan and collaborate with the Forest Service.”

Lourenço asks “Would any employees of or participants in the public-lands litigation factory care to explain how this lawsuit benefits the cause of conservation?”

It seems pretty much BAU to litigate fuel treatment projects in Montana. The interesting twist is about the trails. From this Independence Record story:

The project calls for logging, thinning and prescribed burning on 17,500 acres near Helena. Goals primarily focus on wildfire concerns, with the aim of creating safe places to insert firefighters and reducing a wildfire’s potential severity. A smaller aspect of the project includes trail designations and construction, which has drawn some criticism — and now lawsuits — over concerns of drawing mountain bikes into roadless areas.

The association and federation’s lawsuit was recently consolidated with a separate and much broader lawsuit filed by Alliance for the Wild Rockies and Native Ecosystems Council. While the first lawsuit only challenges work in inventoried roadless areas, the second lawsuit challenges the entirety of the project and calls for it to be halted due to allegations of inadequate environmental analysis and impacts to wildlife.

The guild is challenging the trail portion of the lawsuit. The group contends that multiple trails in the project area have been used for decades by mountain bikers and notes that the project decision prohibits mountain bikes from leaving designated trails. The project officially designates two trails that have seen traditional bike use as well as construction of two multi-use trails in the Jericho and Lazyman Gulch inventoried roadless areas, the guild says.

Is this about kicking bikers off trails they currently use? But bike use is legal in roadless areas.. It’s all very confusing.

I also noted that the State is an intervenor as in this story from KTVH.

Finally, to make the whole project even more confusing, the project is currently underway while the lawsuits move forward according to this article that talks about the implementation (with good photos).

“Courts have not ruled on or temporarily halted the project as it hears the cases, however the Forest Service has agreed to suspend work in roadless areas until the court has ruled on the first lawsuit.”

Here’s an op-ed on the Collaborative and how their opinions were used in the decision.

Here’s a link to the EIS and Matthew Garrity’s (AWR) objection letter

Some of his claims are interesting:

The purpose of the project according to the DROD is to: “Reduce the probability of high-severity wildfires and their associated detrimental watershed effects in the Tenmile Municipal Watershed and surrounding area.”
This is a violation of NEPA since the project will not do this and the purpose also violates NFMA and the APA since trying to fireproof a forest destroys a forest and makes an unhealthy watershed.

21 thoughts on “Mountain Bikers and State Intervene in Ten Mile- South Helena Project”

  1. Sounds like the environmental groups are just mad that roadless areas aren’t being managed as yet another type of de facto wilderness area. Because God forbid any federal lands actually remain open to multiple uses they don’t approve of, or that we have any federal lands that are NOT managed as wilderness areas.

  2. Sharon, thanks very much for picking up on my query and starting a thread with it.

    It’s too much for me to absorb. Just the one objection by the grandly titled Alliance for the Wild Rockies is 22 pages of dense single-spaced text.

    I want to be careful, reserve judgment, and not roll my eyes at this stuff. For all I know, it may have merit. Or, for all I know, it’s a giant delaying game by activists dressed up as a science-based objection. I know too little to have any idea.

    I would be curious to know who funds these endless groups with names like “Alliance of _______,” “Friends of __________,” “Wild _________,” “______ Keeper,” etc., and their bevies of lawyers and lawsuits. Is it individual donations, other, better-known environmentalist organizations, or a combination?

    • Lourenço,

      Two thoughts.. there are plenty of scientists and studies who show the utility of fuel treatment. We’ve had plenty of discussion here about that including the series “Why We Disagree About Fuel Treatments.” (you can search in the search box).

      Then you can look at the 990’s to figure out who is contributing but that is difficult to track for a variety of reasons. I could find this article from 2002 from someone who tried to do it.
      What’s interesting to me is that at the time the idea was (according to the reporter) that many of these groups were against commercial timber sales. That makes sense as they litigate timber sales in Montana frequently (behavior matches words).

      Indeed others besides mountain bikers have raised questions about a) the outsize influence of people who use litigation as a tool in natural resource disputes and b) is it really justice if you have lots of public comments and input, and the final decision is made in a settlement behind closed doors between people (government and interest group attorneys) who have never read them? Not to speak of c) all the time that federal employees could be spending on other things rather than preparing for litigation, and d) the fact that when the Feds are in litigation, they can’t talk about the project (the cone of silence), so the media only has one side. So some have argued that the system is suboptimal and want to tweak it in various ways. These are generally opposed by the litigatory groups. And so it goes.

    • Lourenço Marques: “I would be curious to know who funds these endless groups with names like “Alliance of _______,” “Friends of __________,” “Wild _________,” “______ Keeper,” etc., and their bevies of lawyers and lawsuits. Is it individual donations, other, better-known environmentalist organizations, or a combination?”

      I’d say all the usual big non-profit sue and settle names, but also I’d have to say on the other side there are those industries with a vested interest with Industrial Recreation like Patagonia, Black Diamond, REI, North Face, Hydro Flask, Columbia, United by Blue, etc. There are probably alot of conflicted interests and loyalties here.

      • You boys do realize that the non-profit environmental groups you spend so much time bitching and moaning about and trying to discredit by being “curious to know who funds these ‘endless groups’ actually have annual revenue somewhere between $25,000 and $170,000 (according to

  3. I did a quick review of the objection by the Alliance for the Wild Rockies and could find nothing about any problems with trails and bikes. Does anyone have a link to the Helena Hunters & Anglers and Montana Wildlife Federation lawsuit or their objections?

      • The complaint file March 19 is here:

        “New nonmotorized (mountain bike) trails in the roadless area are not part of the purpose and need of the Tenmile project. New non-motorized (mountain bike) trails in the roadless area were not discussed or disclosed in the draft EIS for the Tenmile project.”

        “The Service’s decision to authorize: (a) road construction and/or reconstruction in the Lazyman Gulch roadless area, including (but not limited to) routes 4000-NS004 and 4000-NS001; and (b) new mountain bike trails in the Lazyman Gulch roadless area – an area recommended for wilderness designation – including (but not limited to) Trails A, B, and D, are substantial changes to the proposed action that were never discussed or addressed in the draft EIS.” (The DEIS for the revised forest plan includes an alternative that recommends this area for wilderness designation. A preferred alternative has not been identified.)

        “The Tenmile-South Helena Forest Restoration Collaborative Committee recommended against allowing mechanized logging within the roadless areas.”

        • So here are my questions:
          Are the trails and mountain bike use existing or not?
          Is “having an alternative for Wilderness designation” the same as “Recommended Wilderness”? If that is true wouldn’t the FS get a great deal more careful about choosing which alternatives to analyze?
          Do collaborative recommendations have any legal status?

          • 1. The complaint alleges that these are “new mountain bike trails.” The FS will have to respond to that; it’s hard to tell from the decision notice:
            “My decision includes designation of approximately 20 miles of non-motorized single-track trails to the National Forest Trail System. Most of these trails are located on existing non-system routes. About 4
            miles will consist of new construction… Of the 20 miles of non-motorized trail being added to the system, 7 miles are located within the
            Lazyman Gulch IRA.”
            2. I agree that the term “recommended for wilderness” is ambiguous when it does not mean it was recommended in a forest plan decision.
            3. Agencies preparing program EISs (like for forest plans) are allowed to continue to operate based on a prior EIS/plan (per 40 CFR §1506.1(c)).
            4. No (but in other situations, you sound like you think they should).

            One piece of this decision is new to me: “My decision also includes restricting bicycle travel to system roads and trails.” Prohibiting bikes off-trail seems obvious, but it was criticized, and I wondered if this is commonly being addressed in travel planning.

            • It sounds like non-system trails are being incorporated and maybe the idea is that if bikes aren’t allowed off-trail, no new bike-user created trails will be created?

              As to the collaborative, I do think their opinions should be seriously considered. At the same time, the agency has the ultimate responsibility. I was just surprised that groups that litigate collaborative decisions all the time pointed this out. Of course, that is kitchen-sinkery so often found in complaints (and appeals and objections).

  4. Found the Helena Hunters and Angler’s objection.

    I’m sympathetic to adding actions outside the alternatives after the DEIS since that resulted in trail closures in my neck of the woods.

    But in the end, the opposition is based on the belief that IRAs should be managed as wilderness.

    “The proposed new trail system within existing Inventoried Roadless Areas is objectionable because this action would, without NEPA or NFMA analysis, knowingly prevent the possibility of the area from ever receiving designated “Primitive” or “Wilderness” status and all the benefits that such designation would impart to wildlife, landscape function, and community benefit.”

      • Yes, I was a party to litigation over the Bitterroot Travel Plan and one count of the lawsuit was the addition of trail closures between the draft and final EIS that were not present in any of the original alternatives, and were not suggested in any of the comments. As with any NEPA litigation, winning is a relative term. The judge did find in our favor and ordered a new objection period to allow commenting limited to trail closures in the portion of the Blue Joint and Sapphire WSAs that were not recommended for wilderness. With prodding we convinced the Bitterroot NF to allow objection by people outside of those people and organizations that made original comments, since the original commenting period had been nearly ten years earlier.

        My experience during the entire travel planning process has left me sympathetic to actions outside the original scope of a project. During the BNF travel plan revision you would have been hard pressed to know that restrictions on mountain biking was even on the table. The scoping was clear that the intent was managing motorized travel. If you attended the community meetings or read the press releases you would have remained ignorant. If it hadn’t been the 500 miles of trail closures to bikes in recommended wilderness in earlier travel plans we wouldn’t have known there was a threat to trail access. In order to shoehorn in bikes into their analysis, and mask the lack of actual bike specific analysis, they copy and pasted the term “motorized and mechanized” wherever “motorized” and been. So as much as I think the addition of these trails would be a net positive, and from what I can gather from friends and contacts in Helena were part of a long term community goal of connecting the south hills to the CDT, I have reservations about adding the trails after the scoping and commenting phases. While I personally think the impacts of new trails relative to the overall scope is minima; and building trails while logging is the ideal time to build, I think it would have been in the best interest of everyone to consider trail impacts on wildlife and do a separate analysis.

        Regarding the restrictions on the social non system trails, my friends tell they have been there for years and have been used regularly by mountain bikers, hikers, and horses. While the bicycle guild in Helena decided not to contest the issue, it does seem discriminatory to only close non-system trail to bikes, but not other users.

        In reply to Matthew Koehler vis a vis who brought the fight to whom, I can say that for Montana and Idaho mountain bikers we feel the fight was brought to us during the travel planning process I referred to above. Prior to eventual 700-1000 miles of trails closed in Montana over the last decade, you would have been hard pressed to even find an organized mountain bike group in Montana. Even if we philosophically believed that “mechanical transport: did not apply to bikes, we also believed there was plenty of other places to ride. Then we lost recommended wilderness access, then we started to lose Wilderness Study Area access, then the Boulder White Clouds were taken from us. Now apparently IRAs need to be closed to bikes as well so that they can become recommended wilderness. In the end it was the loss of trail access that resulted in the organization of most mountain bikes groups in Montana.

        One last point, the idea that since mechanical thinning should be restricted mountain bikes as “mechanical transport” should also be restrict points to the absolute absurdity of the term “mechanical transport”. This is the epitome of a categorical error. I have seen the saws and machines they use for thinning they are a scary huge and orders of magnitude beyond cyclists with chainsaws in backpacks.

        • Thanks, Lance. That is more than interesting; it is remarkable. I can learn a lot from many of the posts on the Smokey Wire website. I also wish to thank Sharon for making this forum available.

  5. Laurence: I’ve served on several small env ngo boards. Some have membership dues, many have sourced funds from philanthropic foundations ( where competition for gifts can be quite fierce), and almost all ngo’s cultivate recurring gifts from individual donors who like their cause. Small ngos are NOT wealthy by any stretch; most are in survival mode. Big ngos like The Nature Conservancy are another matter…

    • Good response Mr. Furnish. There’s also a 99% probability that anonymous-posting “Lourenço Marques” serves on the board of directors of the Sustainable Trails Coalition, which has boasted that they’ve spent close to 1/4 of a million dollars lobbying Congress to allow mountain bikes and other human-power contraptions in our protected Wilderness areas.

  6. And Matthew, I’m not going to take the bait. It doesn’t matter who I am.

    I could be (though I’m not) the distinguished government minister and Harvard professor who published this in The New York Times today:

    “The dominant tone of environmentalism in the rich North Atlantic countries is plaintive and escapist: As history has disappointed us, let’s console ourselves in the great garden of nature.”

    Actually, I’m not sure I agree with that—I have to think on it—but it sounds like something I might have penned. Or more likely that William Cronon might have penned. I’ve read it elsewhere; it’s not unique to that particular op-ed contributor.

    Seriously, there is real, critical, and indispensable work to do in conservation. Saving the Amazon in a way that doesn’t insult Brazil and Bolivia is one urgent current need. (See the op-ed linked to above.) Carping at the Sustainable Trails Coalition and generally fretting about mountain biking in Wilderness (of which there is plenty anyway, in the face of great indifference to it, since it is harmless) doesn’t even rise to the level of a distraction, it’s so off the target of what is important in conservation work.

    • The only reason we are spending any energy what-so-ever “generally fretting about mountain biking in Wilderness” is because people like you brought the fight to us. Trust me, those of us in the U.S. environmental, wildlife and Wilderness movements have plenty on our plate these days, and perhaps we are even engaged in some efforts that you would support, anonymous-post Lourenço Marques. However, for you to assume that any Wilderness defender in the U.S. is spending anything more than a small fraction of their time to expose your silly, selfish effort to get bicycles and other “human-powered” play-toys into Wilderness would be a mistake.

      As an aside, I’ll also just point out that many dedicated U.S. environmentalists working on Wilderness and wildlife issues in the U.S. have also been active for decades now trying to raise awareness of issues impacting rainforests in the Amazon and Central America. Check out one such example from 35 years ago:


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