The Blue Ribbon Coalition and the Idaho Snowmobile Association are challenging the Clearwater National Forest's decision to ban motorcycles, ATVs, snowmobiles and mountain bikes in the Great Burn wilderness study area.
"Only Congress can designate wilderness," said Sandra Mitchell, public lands director of the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, told the Idaho Statesman. "We cannot stand idly by and watch them change the long-established system for managing these treasured lands."
The Great Burn area near the Idaho-Montana border has been a popular snowmobiling destination for decades but has received minimal motorcycle and mountain bike use. The Forest Service's Northern Region, headquartered in Missoula, Mont., has wrongly kept motorized uses out of wilderness study areas in its forests, opponents argued.
Motorized and mechanized use is prohibited in wilderness designated by Congress under the Wilderness Act of 1964. The Forest Service has allowed motorized use in wilderness study areas, which are not designated by Congress but are identified by agency managers as potentially qualifying for that designation.
But Wilderness advocates have long pointed to the agency's unwillingness to keep motorized users out of study areas as a failure to protect their wilderness character. Environmentalists argue the wilderness character is an appropriate multiple use that needs to be preserved so more areas can one day be declared a formal wilderness area.
"I see this as full frontal assault on wilderness," said Brad Brooks, deputy regional director of the Wilderness Society in Boise. "They are making essentially the argument that the Forest Service doesn't have the power to protect wilderness character as a multiple use of public lands."
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