Hunting nonprofit sues USFS for allowing mountain bikes and ATVs in Wilderness Study Area

Here’s a link to the full article from the Teton Valley News. Below are the first few paragraphs from the piece.

On Sept. 26, Mountain Pursuit, a hunters’ advocacy group in Jackson, filed a lawsuit against the Bridger Teton and Caribou Targhee National Forest for allowing mountain bike use in the Palisades Wilderness Study Area and ATV use in the Shoal Creek Wilderness Study Area.

In August of 2018, after the failure of the Teton County Wyoming Public Lands Initiative to make a recommendation to the Teton County Board of Commissioners on how to manage the local Wilderness Study Areas, Rob Shaul founded Mountain Pursuit to lobby for ethical hunting, wildlife and habitat conservation, and hunter education.

Shaul represented the general public in the WPLI committee, which formed in 2016 to address the question of management of the WSAs in Teton County. While a few different proposals, including one “middle ground” proposal spearheaded by Shaul, came before the committee, none of the plans received a majority vote and the committee ended its work without finding consensus.

“Through my two-plus years of working for compromise on the WPLI it was impressed upon me that in northwest Wyoming, Industrial Recreation is the primary threat to wildlife, and that those pushing recreation, including the mountain bike and motorized recreation advocates and businesses, were unwilling to compromise to protect wildlife,” Shaul wrote in an email to the Teton Valley News.

9 thoughts on “Hunting nonprofit sues USFS for allowing mountain bikes and ATVs in Wilderness Study Area”

  1. I read the same article yesterday. It says, “Shaul filed a lawsuit in the Teton County [Wyoming] District Court last week.” That court has no jurisdiction over federal agencies or land, so I imagine it’ll be dismissed immediately, and I wonder if the organization typed up its complaint without consulting a lawyer. If you have a link to the complaint, please post it.

  2. Thanks for posting this, Matthew!
    “Shaul disagreed. In April, his organization Mountain Pursuit sent a letter to Tricia O’Connor, the supervisor of the Bridger Teton National Forest, asserting that the Forest Service “is legally bound by the 1984 Wyoming Wilderness Act not to allow any summer motorized/mechanized activity in the Palisades and Shoal Creek WSAs beyond what was occurring in 1984.”

    He wrote that mountain biking in the Palisades has “exploded in recent years,” and users have pushed deeper into the WSA, which is bounded by Highway 22 to the north, the Wyoming-Idaho state line to the west, Highway 89 to the south, and Fall Creek Road to the east. Shaul added that the impact of mountain bikers on big game is significant, more so than horseback riding or hiking.

    In the agency’s response, O’Connor wrote that mountain bike use in a roadless area does not preclude it from being considered for a wilderness designation, and that all recreational use impacts wildlife; factors such as season of use and location are as critical as the kind of use.”

    What is interesting to me is that 1) wouldn’t hunting also have impacts on wildlife? 2) if current mb use does not preclude it from becoming Wilderness (as of 2019) why would continuing MB use keep it from becoming Wilderness?

    It’s also interesting when groups choose litigation as a tactic, especially when groups who seldom or haven’t in the past, choose to do so.

    “Ferlisi said that when the WPLI failed, some committee members expected to see litigation, but not necessarily from a local entity.

    “We’re organized and we have great partners in the conservation community,” he said. “This just isn’t how we do things around here.””

  3. I’m sorry to hear that that area is being used so heavily. I thought Wilderness study areas were constrained by the same rules as Wilderness areas?

    I worked seismic in the area in the late 70s early 80s criss crossing it a few times. One of our pilots and a junior observer crashed somewhere up by Starvation Peak and the pilot’s ashes are there. At the time the only signs of use were from outfitters in the fall, some fishing at the reservoir. Mountain bikes and ATVs weren’t a thing yet.

    Sharron yes hunting disturbs wildlife similar to any other human presence, the difference is that hunter numbers are controlled as is the amount of time hunting is allowed as well as the time of year. Wildlife biologists are also able to monitor herd health and reduce or eliminate hunting in a specific area without repercussions, biologists are employees of the agency making the rules.

    • I’m not at all obsessed with mountain biking access stuff. In this case, as a moderator on this blog, I simply posted a timely article about an issue that many other contributors on this blog have already posted about, and many frequent commenters have offered their opinions and perspectives about. As anyone can clearly see, I offered up it up with zero personal comment.

      FWIW: I actually have been known to mountain bike and live car-free during large chunks of my adult life. Why some people are obsessed with anonymously making stuff up about what I supposedly think and believe, might be a good question to ask. Thanks.

  4. Sharon: “if current mb use does not preclude it from becoming Wilderness (as of 2019) why would continuing MB use keep it from becoming Wilderness?”

    Here’s some language from the Ten Lakes Snowmobile Club case, that shows how a court might address this question. It’s basically going to give deference to the agency interpretation – if the agency provides a satisfactory explanation. This case is the opposite, where the FS explained why it was excluding motorized and mechanized (in relation to big game any way) uses. The B-T and C/T would have to explain why these things are NOT a problem there. And it could depend on the level of use and the nature of a particular area. (Ten Lakes is also about recommended wilderness areas, but the language for WSAs regarding “impairment” of an area’s suitability for wilderness is essentially the same as “reduce the wilderness potential” for RWAs. And Ten Lakes also involves forest plan language.)

    “The 2006 USFS Handbook provides that “[a]ny inventoried roadless area recommended for wilderness . . . is not available for any use that may reduce the wilderness potential of an area. Activities currently permitted may continue, pending designation, if the activities do not compromise wilderness values of the area.” AR 0036960 (2006 USFS Manual§ 1923.03(1) (emphasis added)). The Kootenai Forest Plan requires that RWAs should “provide opportunities and experiences one would expect to find in a wilderness environment,” and “is managed to maintain wilderness characteristics.” AR 0043693, 0044003.

    Having reviewed the record in this case, the Court finds that the Forest Service’s decision to restrict over-snow vehicle and mechanized use in the RWAs in order to avoid degradation of wilderness characteristics is adequately explained in the ROD and is not arbitrary or capricious. The Forest Service provided a reasoned analysis of this issue in the ROD and FEIS for both forests, and considered the environmental impacts of its decision after weighing the relevant data and materials. See, e.g., AR 0102019-0102020 (Kootenai), AR 0101763 (Panhandle). For example, in the Kootenai, the Forest Service considered the effect of over-snow motorized use on grizzly bears (AR XXXXXXX-XX), and discussed the impacts of recreation activities on big game (AR XXXXXXX-XX). In the Panhandle, the Forest Service analyzed the effects of motorized over-snow access on lynx (AR XXXXXXX-XX) and wolverines (AR XXXXXXX-XX). Thus, the record supports the decision of the Forest Service to manage these areas as protected wilderness.

    Ten Lakes discussion –

  5. This case (Mountain Pursuit v. USFS) was decided on August 25, 2020 (and was apparently missed by the FS litigation summaries and the public) in favor of the Forest Service because plaintiffs did not have standing to sue. They did not identify any specific agency actions that the court could review, or any specific legal obligations that the agency failed to perform. The Forest Service didn’t make any actual decision to “open” the WSAs to mechanized and motorized use, and failure to enforce apparent restrictions in the forest plan on such public uses is not judicially reviewable. The court did not reach the question of whether, as the forest supervisor said, “mountain bike use in a roadless area does not preclude it from being considered for a wilderness designation.”


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