Forest planning for mechanized use in recommended wilderness

We’ve talked about whether mountain bikes should be allowed in areas recommended for wilderness designation by the Forest Service in a forest plan, for example, here.  Most of the angst has been related to a policy adopted by Region 1 that many interpret as excluding this use because allowing it would reduce the likelihood that an area would actually be designated.  Here’s an example from another region of how a forest plan would address this question.  This language is from the draft EIS for the Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest revised plan (North Carolina). While this is written about the effects of wilderness designation, the DEIS also makes it clear what activities the Forest thinks would create a risk to future wilderness designation options.

Wilderness recommendation and designation would remove the potential to generate revenue from timber production, forest product sales, and other land uses which support surrounding development such as utility or transportation corridors. No new mineral claims would be filed, but valid existing claims would be allowed to operate.

Existing roads within recommended areas would either continue to be maintained as linear wildlife fields or decommissioned and allowed to return to a natural state. No new wildlife fields would be created nor any timber harvest activities allowed. Restoration activities where the outcomes protect wilderness characteristics would be allowed to continue, including monitoring, relocation of animals, habitat improvements such as removal of nonnative fish species and nonnative invasive plant species, stream improvements, and rehabilitation of recreation impacts.

Existing trails would continue to be maintained to allow for hiking and equestrian use per current trail-use designations, but mechanized transport such as bicycles or carts would be prohibited in all recommended areas (with exception of approved mobility devices for the impaired). Commercial collection of non-timber forest products such as galax or ginseng, would not be permitted; however, collection for non-commercial or tribal purposes would be allowed. Other commercial activities such as recreation special-use events would also be prohibited in areas recommended for wilderness designation.

The mountain bike decision by the Forest was the followed discussions with a public working group, which also included consideration of whether future wilderness recommendations could be conditioned on providing adequate mountain bike trails.  The location of the trails was potentially less important than the amount, but it is unknown at this time where additional trails might be and how that might affect wilderness boundaries.  Consequently, trails in a potential wilderness area could be managed to phase out the existing but unauthorized mechanized use gradually after providing other comparable opportunities, and when certain conditions were met, appropriate areas would be formally recommended, with the full support of both mountain bike and wilderness groups.  But the Forest ended up recommending the area for wilderness, which would exclude the use.
In effect, the Forest appears to have considered an alternative that would have not recommended an area, but committed to a process that would recommend some or all of it as wilderness in the future (presumably with a plan amendment) when certain objectives are achieved.  You don’t find this alternative mentioned in the DEIS, though, as one considered but eliminated from detailed study.
Back in R1, the Nez Perce-Clearwater draft revised plan includes a suitability designation regarding mechanized use in all areas recommended for wilderness designation in a particular alternative.  Of the four action alternatives, one has no recommended wilderness and one would allow mechanized use in the areas recommended.  (The DEIS does not say what the current direction for recommended wilderness is.)  There is no preferred alternative.


42 thoughts on “Forest planning for mechanized use in recommended wilderness”

  1. Wow. This is a loaded and deep topic.

    I think it is telling to realize that most forest managers and planners fail to value non-motorized recreation to the same extant as those who partake in it. This lack of understanding coupled with a requirement to identify Recommended Wilderness during planning sets up the Forest to create numerous errors with every Forest Plan. The process of looking at the land strictly to score it’s wilderness character and potential misses those recreation values. The NEPA process is inadequate for public outreach as the majority of the public doesn’t understand it or is preoccupied in some fashion. The process of creating wilderness can exceed half a century, needlessly restricting those who used to enjoy quiet wheeled access. Future Wilderness is far from guaranteed. Finally blanket mechanized restrictions could be construed as “legislation from the ranger station” bypassing Congress, something which is now against the law, I believe.

    I think it is wise to be careful and design some flexibility into Forest Plan RWA management, to allow for error or value bias. Allowing mechanized to continue in RWAs is similar to allowing mechanized to continue in WSAs managed under the Montana Wilderness Study Act.

    • Wasn’t NEPA originally supposed to consider human impacts as well as environmental? It seems these days it doesn’t really consider human impacts at all, at least not recreation by any group other than hikers.

      • Yes, Patrick, the FS will analyze social and economic impacts as part of the EIS. So in that sense, they are “considered”. But as judges have said (can’t remember the cite) as long as they analyze, they get to pick whatever alternative. I remember a long time ago, Sally Fairfax wrote a piece about how protecting the environment via a procedural statute was probably not the best way to go about it, but it is what we have.

      • “NEPA ensures agencies consider the significant environmental consequences of their proposed actions and inform the public about their decision making. Countries and non-governmental organizations all over the globe have created their own environmental impact assessment programs, modeled upon NEPA, making NEPA an international catalyst in the field of environmental protection.”

  2. Makes a person want to involuntarily regurgitate, doesn’t it! – don’t you just love the word smithing genius’s in the FS – now roads have become “wildlife fields”.

    • Thanks for posting this, Jon! I can’t imagine anyone else having the patience to look through those (tedious and lengthy) documents and put it together for comparison. It will be interesting to see what other forests do.

    • If nothing else, this certainly makes it clear that all Forest user groups except hikers have an absolute imperative to vigorously oppose all recommended wilderness designations in forest plans from now on.

  3. Under the original intent of the Wilderness Act, if an area has roads it is not suitable for Wilderness. Too bad the Forest Service has lost sight of both that original meaning and its actual mission of managing lands for multiple use and sustained yield. It has instead accepted the view of radical environmental groups that all federal lands must be managed with the ultimate goal of attaining to Wilderness status, such that all existing uses and users which are incompatible with Wilderness must be kicked out in order to make the land suitable for Wilderness.

    • Yep. You captured it pretty well Patrick. The truth really stings hard. It’s why weve currently lost access to over 1k miles of trails in Montana. Defacto wilderness manufacturing via disenfranchisement.

    • Patrick:

      Wilderness, Wilderness Study Areas, Research Natural Areas, etc are part of “managing lands for multiple use.”

      • When all federal lands are viewed as aspirational Wilderness, that is not managing for multiple uses, that is managing for a single use. And make no mistake, that is the direction land management agencies are being pushed.

        One of the most influential environmental groups in the Pike San Isabel National Forest is Wild Connections. If you read their “conservation plan” that is the foundation for every comment they submit in every NEPA process, they literally consider 90% of the entire National Forest “recommended wilderness”. It was quite informative how their comments on the recent travel management process were organized by their recommended wilderness areas, such that every single major motorized trail system happened to fall inside one of their recommended wilderness areas.

        I know they are not the Forest Service, but their views are driving the agenda for the PSI in general and this travel management process in particular, because their lawsuit and the resulting settlement is what mandated it in the first place, and they (and their allied groups) directly wrote two of the alternatives. You can be sure that when the PSI finally updates their Forest Plan in a few years, they will be under tremendous pressure to formally designate each of these areas as recommended wilderness, no matter what other long standing conflicting uses there are.

        In order for Wilderness to have any real meaning, there have to be areas that are clearly suitable for Wilderness status, and there have to be areas that are clearly NOT suitable for it. It seems these days, the only real categories in the minds of land managers and environmental groups are lands that are already managed as Wilderness (either designated or de facto) and lands that are in the process of being made eligible for Wilderness status as other uses are being gradually phased out. That is not multiple use.

        • Patrick, your observations are interesting from a political science perspective. It almost seems as though court cases could be trumping (so to speak) the desires of the Executive Branch and also last longer than any specific administration. It almost seems as if with successful lawsuits (or settlements, can’t remember the details of that one), lead to certain people having more of a say.

          It’s also interesting in the broader context, that when we talk about say, timber harvest levels, political influence of elected individuals is seen to be bad. While (excessive?) influence of unelected individuals via court cases is seen to be good. And we are expecting GS-15 feds to navigate that political minefield. I’m glad I’m not them.

          Your point about multiple use echoes some of AFRC’s comments on the 2012 Planning Rule, (I think a lawyer wrote the comments, so I am not doing the argument justice here) that multiple use is a statute and a planning reg can’t change that by saying ecological counts more. That is waiting for some lawsuits and a cascade of future case law to decide.

          • Sorry I let this one slip by. The Multiple-Use Sustained-Yield Act “breathes discretion at every pore” (court), so it is not a barrier to favoring ecosystem integrity. But more important, NFMA demands plant and animal diversity and authorizes the Forest Service to develop regulations to get that. Courts have already agreed that “ecological counts more.”

            • Well yeah. It’s pretty obvious that current federal land management policy vastly favors ecological preservation over all other uses (I’m talking overall, not short-term policies pushed by specific administrations). The Multiple-Use-Sustained-Yield Act hasn’t been a meaningful barrier to that for decades. The driving force of environmental law is a one way ratchet away from multiple use toward greater preservation.

              When folks like me talk about multiple use, we’re advocating for a meaningful a return to multiple use as the guiding principle for federal land management, not just something agencies pay lip service to while gradually eliminating every use from public lands except wilderness preservation.

            • I’m not sure that the specific question of whether writing a reg that says “ecological counts more” has yet been tested in court. It’s going to depend on how far the FS goes. Say the White River decided to revoke ski area permits for that reason, I would expect it would end up in court.

              • My point was merely that courts have held that the diversity requirement in NFMA imposes a substantive minimum, which is not true of any other uses. (Maybe because it’s not really a “use” but actually part of “the productivity of the land” which most not be impaired.)

                The Mt. Graham red squirrel case (in a forthcoming litigation summary) is along the lines of what you are suggesting. Plaintiffs want to get rid of leased recreation facilities to protect the last squirrels left in the world. It is mostly an ESA case about a special use permit but plaintiffs do cite the diversity provision of NFMA..

  4. I have several thoughts on this not suprisingly. The first there seems to be an inherent inconsistency to closing areas that by now have a historic use by mountain bikers. If mountain bike use negatively impacts wilderness potential, how can an area still have adequate wilderness character for wilderness recommendation after 20 or 30 years of use. Logically if all it takes to instantaneously recreate the wilderness character is to close a trail, it seems the the earlier forest service approach of allowing transient non-compatible use more consistent with managing RW in the context of the Forest Service’s multiuse mandate.

    According to “Keeping it Wild 2” the metrics for wilderness character are: untrammeled, natural, undeveloped, solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation, and other features of value. These were chosen since they “represent the primary tangible aspects of wilderness character that link on-the-ground conditions in wilderness and the outcomes of wilderness stewardship to the statutory definition of wilderness.” I think the key point here is on-the-ground. Managing RW to maintain these qualities and that in includes the social impacts of bikes is reasonable. However when the Bitterroot National Forest closed RW and WSAs to mountain bikes they made it clear that the closures were on about these qualities, but rather creating a political climate that makes wilderness designation easier. From the ROD,

    “…allowing uses that do not conform to wilderness character creates a constituency that will have a strong propensity to oppose recommendation and any subsequent designation legislation. Management actions that create this operating environment will complicate the decision process for Forest Service managers and members of Congress. It is important that when the wilderness recommendations are made to Congress that they be unencumbered with issues that are exclusive to the wilderness allocation decision. Congress is not the appropriate forum in which to debate travel management decisions.”

    What this means is the Forest Service is closing trails not based on any measurable impacts, but rather based on assumptions on the political preferences of user groups. The goal is to prevent the creation of groups that would advocate for alternative management strategies and to discourage advocating to our legislators about our preferences. This is attempt to short circuit the political process of wilderness designation by limiting the political participation of potential opponents, and in the end wilderness designation is a political decision not merely a land management alternative.

    Underlying this is the assumption that the political case for wilderness designation is so weak, that the only way to ensure passage of a wilderness bill is by encouraging ignorance. If no one know how good the trails are for biking or how much potential the area has for climbing or snowmobiling there will be no one to oppose wilderness designation. Maybe that is why so much support for new wilderness comes from people who have never set foot in the areas under consideration. I find this attitude depressing. Some of the most magical moments in my life have occurred in areas I can no longer ride. One memory that sticks out above most is coming across a pack of wolves in the meadows of the Blue Joint WSA and watching them disappear into the trees on the edge and hearing them howl. I would do almost anything to protect those wolves and those meadows from being despoiled. I don’t want roads there. I don’t want logging or mining. I don’t even want that many more people to go there on bikes, by foot or on a horse. I don’t want the trail made easier or access easier. I want to collaborate on solutions that keep it wild and still maintain access by bike. But by attempting to exclude members of the public who love wild places, but who want alternatives to the wilderness only approach, from the political process winning solutions a large share of the public would support are lost.

    • Lance, you probably haven’t heard my story about this. When I worked for Congresswoman Meek of Florida in the mid 90’s, I was her rep to the Democratic Environmental Caucus. She fully supported Wilderness in Idaho. But.. the Florida delegation acted as one (R’s and D’s) to vote down something that would protect the environment in Florida. The chief staff guy for the Caucus didn’t understand why the Florida D’s would all go “the wrong way” on this. Well, duh.

      In other words, I don’t think it’s an accident that many Wilderness supporters are from somewhere else, and may not understand the complexities or alternatives. Say some form of Wilderness lite designation, also permanent.

      I am more concerned about what you quoted “creates a constituency that will have a strong propensity to oppose recommendation and any subsequent designation legislation. Management actions that create this operating environment will complicate the decision process for Forest Service managers and members of Congress. It is important that when the wilderness recommendations are made to Congress that they be unencumbered with issues that are exclusive to the wilderness allocation decision. Congress is not the appropriate forum in which to debate travel management decisions.”

      I’m tempted to quote Pinchot “a forester is not a politician” but I also believe on it’s not the FS’s job (low political leverage) to make Congress’s job easier nor to grease the political skids. Wilderness designation is a Congressional deal and they seem perfectly capable of handling it- and if they don’t, they are after all, Congress and are accountable at election time for their actions, which FS employees (unelected bureaucrats) are not.

      • Thanks for sharing that story. It makes perfect sense. Wilderness is always easier to support the farther away it is.

        When we first saw that quote in the ROD we were floored, but not really surprised. At least in region one the idea that the FS should manage RW and WSAs not based on impacts but on preventing the creation of constituencies that would opposed wilderness designation was uncontroversial and commonly discussed in the some of the emails we aquired in a FOIA request. Similarly in our attempts to find common ground with the wilderness groups they used near the identical verbiage. Now some of this is not new, the original Wilderness Management book by Hendee made the same point back in late 70s.

        Here are some additional quotes from the Region One guidance on RW management.

        “For all of these areas, the planning team needs to determine, through the wilderness evaluation process, whether an area is capable of wilderness designation and if it is available for wilderness consideration. The availability assessment determines the best future recreation use of that area.”

        “Loss of opportunity to consider areas for wilderness recommendation. In some areas, uses have become established over the years that have now precluded the area from being recommended. Certain segments of the public come to expect those uses will continue and there is a perceived economic dependency by local communities on those uses. A management scheme that protects the areas capability and availability needs to be implemented and expectations that the use will be long term should not be established.”

        Now this points to another inconsistency in the process that Greg mentioned earlier, and that is in general the lack of a recreational analysis. I understand this to mean that the are two phases in making RW decisions. The first is analyzing whether there is sufficient wilderness character to merit recommendation. The second phase in the more controversial aspect. First “availability” seems to have undergone a lexigraphic shift from analyzing recreational opportunities to excluding recreational opportunities that threaten support for future wilderness designation. Second and related, The first quote states that the availability analysis should determine “the best future recreational use of the area”, and the second quote seems determined to reject local community support for what locals consider the best recreational use of the area if it contradicts the FS desire for a wilderness recommendation.

        Now I don’t think that restricting non-conforming uses is totally unreasonable. If there was viable proposal in congress for wilderness designation and that the decision timeline was a year or two, then adding a new use doesn’t make much sense. However in the current climate where a wilderness recommendation can hang around for a generation or more, it seems less reasonable to restrict uses to areas that have a low probability of designation within a reasonable time span. By the time the BNF gets around to a new Forest Plan and review of RW it will have been 40 years since the last revision, and in those 40 years not a single acre of RW will have been designated wilderness.

        • You’ve hit the nail square on the head, Lance. It’s been a biased process, and in the case of removing constituencies, an illegal process. Unfortunately for us we haven’t had the deep pockets to adequately defend our access through the courts.

          Sharon hit it right as well, noting it’s not the role of the Forest Service to influence Congress in this manner. But it’s happened, and now we have quite a few areas and over 1,000 miles of trails closed in R1 for as much as 10 years. IMBA identified the Forest Service/Congressional relationship (creating defacto wilderness by superseding Congress yet also trying to influence Congress as a regional blanket policy) as improper back in 2006.

          The roots of this have been biased policy, and allowance of Regional managers to have free reign with the law. It’s the definition of “legislation from the Ranger Station”. Wilderness has been put on the front burner and recreation has been put on the back burner.

          One of my favorite locations in the state is closed, I know that Lance has lost more and much closer to home. It’s been a bad situation.

        • Well, and being from Colorado it’s very confusing as in the argument for DeGette’s wilderness bill, she says:

          “By designating the areas as wilderness, they become permanently protected from the threat of any future logging, mining, drilling, road building or any other type of development on that land. Instead, the untouched wilderness areas are preserved for the public’s benefit and enjoyment – whether it be for hiking, horseback riding, rafting, kayaking, hunting, fishing, camping or some other popular form of outdoor recreation.

          Studies have shown that preserving wilderness lands for the public to use often provides a direct economic boost to the nearby economies.

          According to the Colorado Office of Economic Development, Colorado’s outdoor recreation industry generates $28 billion in consumer spending every year in the state; and supports more than 229,000 jobs. Nationally, the industry is responsible for generating $887 billion in consumer spending each year.” Of course, those numbers include mbs, ohvs, and rvs. Anyway, her argument is that Wilderness is good at least in part because it makes land better for recreation and rural economies.

          But in the R-1 case, it’s bad to have “perceived economic dependency by local communities on those uses.”

          I guess the only way to harmonize these two ideas is to say “there are bad users and good users, economies should only be dependent on good users.” What I’m missing, though, for current users in Colorado is the explicit recognition that economies might not be better off by kicking users out. They’d have to replace MBers and other “bad recreationists” with MORE “good recreationists.” for it to be an economic plus. Unless good recreationists spend more recreation bucks? That seems unlikely to me albeit possible (horses cost more than MBs, for example, but hikers would seem to spend fewer bucks on equipment).

          Seems like it’s easy to make claims, harder to justify them.

          • “What I’m missing, though, for current users in Colorado is the explicit recognition that economies might not be better off by kicking users out.”

            In my experience, a lot of non-mechanized users (i.e. foot and horse) will feel kicked out (or kick themselves out if you prefer) of areas that allow mechanized uses. In both cases most users would probably change locations rather than recreate less, so I don’t think the economic effects would usually be very noticeable either way.

            • I think therein lies the problem. So many non-mechanised users are elitists that demand exclusive access in order to enjoy their preferred form of recreation. Whereas most other user groups are willing to share the trail with multiple other types of users. But for some reason the entire federal land management system is rigged to favor the selfish elitists who demand that all others be kicked out forever. And other users are called selfish for simply wanting to maintain the access they already have.

  5. Many of the author’s statements after the Nantahala-Pisgah NF EIS quote are incorrect as related to the N-P NF EIS, but may be relevant to other NFs in the west. After downloading and reading the N-P NF EIS, I found there’s only one MTB trail, in one area, in one alternative out of thousands of acres being recommended, and that trail is a 2 mile dead-end. I’m not a mountain biker, but the approach the N-P NF has taken seems to be considerate of MTB riders by not recommending more areas with MTB trails. And the commenter talking about roads being called wildlife fields, they actually are managed for wildlife habitat in the east, gated to vehicular access, seeded with wildlife mix, and mowed by the state wildlife commission. So that’s not a creative re-definition of roads, its a long-standing management technique to support wildlife populations.

    • You mentioned there was only one mountain bike trail. What about roads? Land management agencies seem much more willing to target areas with roads and motorized trails for recommended wilderness than mountain biking trails, since mountain bikers still enjoy a semi-favored recreationist status versus motorized users who are just considered scum.

    • Thanks, TW, to add on to your statement, in the Carolina mountains, hunting is an important activity, and so people are interested in having habitats that produce desirable conditions for different kinds of wildlife. Two kinds of habitat people there are particularly interested in are maintained grass/forb openings and early successional habitat or ESH. ESH is relatively ephemeral stages of forest in the 0 – 10 and 11 – 20 year age classes. Younger ESH supports soft mast-producing species up to canopy closure, whereas permanent grass/forb habitat produces tender browse and supports higher insect and invertebrate populations that are exploited heavily by ruffed grouse and wild turkey. Aside: hard mast production in oaks and hickories is highest between ages 40 – 80 and declines sharply after that, so a tangential benefit to producing ESH now is to produce hard mast in the future.

      In the area, old roads can be managed as linear wildlife habitat. Again, these are maintained openings. The vast majority of linear WL openings are on NFS roads in the Maintenance Level (ML) 2 category with fewer in the ML 1 classification ( All are closed to public vehicular access, but are heavily used by hunters going after grouse, turkey, deer, and bear. This is foot traffic only as OHVs are not allowed on any open or closed NFS roads in North Carolina.

      The FS or the NC Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) maintains them through annual mowing. The FS checks them periodically and treats for NNIP (non-native invasive plants) infestations. These linear WL strips experience less erosion and have fewer long-term maintenance costs than gravel or native surface roads. When needed for active management, they get a good mowing, some light grading if needed, and then are lightly ripped and replanted after access is no longer needed.

      It seems to me that, technically, until Congress designates a RW as capital W Wilderness, management would be allowed provided it does not represent “…an irreversible or irretrievable commitment…” of resources that would degrade “naturalness” and/or “solitude”. So, continuing to mow linear WL openings would be OK. I’d think that keeping up the culverts would be OK and actually ripping up the roads permanently would be OK. But maybe doing the light grading would not be OK.

      Anyway, you might ask “but what are roads doing in RW in the first place? Don’t roads make a place off-limits?” I personally don’t know what the requirements are (but I’m sure that someone here can cite them), but I was told that this part of the Southern Appalachians was heavily logged between 1880 and 1930, and beyond in some cases. It’s very common to encounter old road prisms, even in areas that are now fairly far removed from vehicular access. If they were to limit RW to totally unroaded areas, then few areas would qualify.

      This whole situation is so different from the ones we encounter in the West, it’s hard to wrap my brain around. But it’s fun to learn about. I like the ways different forests try to deal with the challenge of threading the needle with some organizations wanting more or less RW, and the ideas behind which previous uses are tolerable for inclusion, and which ones need to be kicked out -and whether you do it concurrent with the recommendation or wait for designation. And of course, Wilderness bills can be negotiated to leave some existing uses in. Maybe hand mowing of these strips?

      • The criteria for wilderness evaluation are in the Planning Handbook, 1909.12 §71,22a.!..

        There’s a lot of details and discretion for roads but it generally boils down to maintenance level, and areas would be excluded if they have roads that “Have been improved and are maintained by mechanical means to ensure relatively regular and continued use.”

        (I hiked in a wilderness in New England once where the trail was on an old railroad grade.)

  6. Sharon: “… but I also believe on it’s not the FS’s job (low political leverage) to make Congress’s job easier nor to grease the political skids.”

    It’s the FS’s job to accomplish the goals it sets for itself in forest plans. The fact that they need the help of Congress for wilderness designation doesn’t change that.

    Greg: “IMBA identified the Forest Service/Congressional relationship (creating defacto wilderness by superseding Congress yet also trying to influence Congress as a regional blanket policy) as improper back in 2006.”

    I guess I’d like to see the specifics on that. There are court cases that say the FS can create management areas with similar restrictions through forest planning.

    • Jon, the specifics were a “white paper” emailed to forest supervisors in 2003. It was a regional directive to treat Recommended Wilderness similar to Wilderness region wide. A blanket policy without it actually being a policy. This was put in place without any NEPA review and wasn’t superseded until the 2012 Planning Rule. It took until 2011 before we ever saw a copy of the White Paper. I think it was 2008 or 09 when we read a New York Times article that exposed the motivation for the White Paper, to prevent constituencies from forming that would oppose Wilderness, as Lance stated.

      What has continued to be missed is that the constituencies were already in place, enjoying the land for 20 or more years before the White Paper. The Forest Service continued to frame it as though the people and bikes were new and they were trying to prevent us from taking hold of these areas.

      As mountain bikers we were effectively powerless to counter the directive. Supervisors stated there was no official policy, which was correct. Comments from bikers during Forest Planning were disregarded. In the Beaverhead Deerlodge NF cycling was removed from 16 RWAs, many of which were treasured summer recreation destinations. Bear in mind, this is rural Montana, and these areas were far from busy. We did help prop up economies. Several trails were among the state’s best for cycling and scenery.

    • Jon, I think it’s the FS’s job to work with the public to determine what activities should go on where in National Forests.

      I wouldn’t characterize it as “the Forest Service needs the help of Congress” to meet its goals.

      Maybe there are regional or personality differences. Maybe there are political differences among States. It seems like you think of the Forest Service as a restaurant, with Wilderness as a plate, handed by the FS to Congress.

      In other places, it may seem like the Forest Service simply analyzes according to the regs (more like regulating food trucks). Groups of interested parties (are like food trucks) and provide individual food items (pieces of Wilderness) (from the RW’s and areas that may not be RW) and some closed-door political magic occurs by which the ultimate plate is determined.

      I be there’s lots of state-specific history we may be missing here.

      • “I be(t) there’s lots of state-specific history we may be missing here.”

        Yeah, no kidding.

        Whatever the process, legal or extremely questionable, Recreation Access is always diminished. Think about this; there is no process to get that access back, at least within a person’s lifetime.

        Think about this; the tangible takeaway is an increasingly bitter, inconsolable public.

  7. Sharon: “I think it’s the FS’s job to work with the public to determine what activities should go on where in National Forests.” That should have been what happened in making the forest plan decision to recommend wilderness and manage it for no mechanized use. This was affirmed in the Ten Lakes case on the Kootenai I referred to above. Here’s where I talked about that case and the “white paper.” The court did not find anything “improper” in a legal sense.

    • Jon, I’m curious why you insist on using the term mechanized when you mean mountain bike. I doubt you mean to include chair lifts, trams, gondolas and other forms of motorized but not vehicle use. I have never seen a forest plan or travel plan discuss other non motorized mechanical assisted activities such as kite skiing or paragliding. I suppose there is some one out there on a unicycle or mountain skate boards but by and large those are irrelevant.

      I also find it interesting that someone referred to mechanical treatment of old roads and I seriously doubt they mean push mowers. Same way that mechanical thinning of forests does not mean mountain bikers with chainsaw but rather large motorized machines larger than any passenger vehicles.

      If you mean bikes, say bikes. The terms mechanized is meaningless spanning everything from wheel carts that are exceedingly simple, Kites, that for all purposes have not gears or moving pasts and almost no metal to earthmovers and rockets.

        • So I just finished reading Judge Christensen’s Ten Lakes decision, (I’m taking time off from being an expert virologist and/or epidemiologist to play lawyer). I have never really bothered to read it since the objection to RW access was by the motorized groups. Mountain bikers were more interested in the management of the Ten Lakes WSA which was not affected by the Kootenai plan.

          I don’t think it is completely out of bonds for the FS to restrict non conforming uses in RW. Their access may be allowed, not must be allowed. But in reading his decision, the question of whether the FS can restrict access to maintain the political viability of potential wilderness decision rather than the on-the-ground wilderness characteristics of the land was not addressed. That is what was unique about the BNF travel plan. They explicitly stated this was the reason. Usually the FS is not so up front about the actual motivations, normally they find some more defensible rationale as cover.

          • That’s pretty good lawyering, Lance. It got me to read the Bitterroot Ridge Runners case, where I expected to find some discussion of “political viability.”

            It doesn’t look like the court addressed it at a time it should have been raised, so it’s still not clear to me that anyone with any authority has determined that the Forest Service did something “improper” (Greg’s term) by considering the “constituency enhancing” effect of allowing a use to occur.

            If that were brought up, I would look at the language from the MWSA: “f]irst, the Service must administer study areas so as to maintain their wilderness character as it existed in 1977;” and “[s]econd, the Service must administer the areas so as to maintain their potential for designation as wilderness areas…” I would argue that these are two distinct requirements and that their “potential for designation” must be different from their “wilderness character” and reasonably encompasses the idea of “political viability.” It would also be proper for the FS to apply these principles from MWSA to other recommended wilderness.

            • When planning takes place within the Montana WSAs one fact is often ommitted, and that was Congressional Intent for the areas. The Congressional Intent set in place a balancing act that Forest Planning has yet to reconcile. Judge Malloy ruled several times, leaving the door open for the Forest Service to find ways to actually manage uses in the WSA’s, yet each time the Forests have elected to not manage the areas, instead closing them to the uses.

              I wish I had access to the whole guidance document for the WSAs. I really don’t know how to locate it. However I have saved some snippets. Here is an important snippet:

              From the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Representative Morris Udall issued a report September 28, 1977. The report accompanied final legislation for S 393. This vital report covered details for the act plus dissenting views that were left from the final act for brevity. Here is the report’s final paragraph:

              Off Road Vehicle Use
              “The use of off-road vehicles, while generally prohibited in designated wilderness areas, is entirely appropriate in wilderness study areas, including the nine areas in S. 393. Nothing in S. 393 will prohibit the use of off road vehicles, unless the normal Forest Service planning process and travel planning process, which applies to all national forest lands, determines off road vehicle use to be inappropriate in a given area. Of course, commonsense dictates that certain areas may be temporarily closed to off road vehicle use where fire danger or physical damage to terrain indicate closure is warranted. However, absent such circumstances or Forest Service planning decisions, it is the intention of the committee that the areas in S. 393 (and other wilderness study areas) remain open to off road vehicle use unless and until they are formally designated as wilderness.”

              Jon, just from this I think you can see that management of the Montana WSAs is distinctly different than the RWAs. It’s a different set of rules.

              • If this history is relevant it is only with regard to how to manage prior to a forest plan or travel plan decision rather than how to make those decisions. This language also concedes that the Forest Service could determine that off road vehicle use is inappropriate in areas it is recommending for wilderness through the forest planning process. Then it appears to contradict itself by referring to the point when they are “formally designated as wilderness.” I don’t think it’s too helpful (and legislative history isn’t often given much weight).

                • If the WSA still exists, it’s up to the agency to manage it as Congress intended. There is no triggering circumstance where Congress or it’s intent can be completely disregarded, except Congressional release of an area. What is happening here is that the agencies are going rogue, and eliminating uses without attempting management, or even providing justification for their decisions. In the case of closures in the Bitterroot NF they have eliminated uses using data from national data that didn’t locally apply. They had no local data. Lance can fill us in on specifics. This is one example that I can point to where the agency fails to understand recreation. Knowing they are ignorant they make up excuses in order to complete planning so it fits a pre-conceived agenda. Sadly a judge sided with the agency, bolstering it’s power to make poor decisions. The trails are currently growing over. Lance can fill in those specifics as well.

  8. “I be(t) there’s lots of state-specific history we may be missing here.”

    Yeah, no kidding.

    Whatever the process, legal or extremely questionable, Recreation Access is always diminished. Think about this; there is no process to get that access back, at least within a person’s lifetime.

    Think about this; the tangible takeaway is an increasingly bitter, inconsolable public.

  9. The exact same issues exist on the Payette National Forest. Nearly all public access other than Foot is being eliminated in areas so large that they may never be accessed by the public again. Visitor use figures show that only about 6 percent of the visitor use is in Wilderness or WSA. Motorized use is a monster to be eliminated. I do think a majority of the public is bitter, inconsolable and upset. Ignored by FS management and planning. We need to harness the strength of the public through advisory votes, and a national movement to say yes to mechanical and motorized use in wilderness.


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