Earlier this month, a magistrate judge in Idaho issued an important decision on a lawsuit filed by The Wilderness Society and our partners over destructive off-road vehicle use on the Salmon-Challis National Forest in Idaho. The judge agreed with us that the Forest Service had violated environmental laws in developing its plan to designate where motor vehicles were allowed to travel. This decision was the culmination of several years of work on behalf of TWS and our partners to halt unauthorized and inappropriate motorized recreation.
For me, this case was personal. I have hunted elk, climbed peaks, scaled limestone walls and spent many days recreating on the Salmon-Challis. It is a Forest rich with recreational opportunities no matter how you prefer to enjoy public lands.
The Salmon-Challis National Forest encompasses 4.3 million acres of land, and includes large portions of the iconic Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. This is a very wild forest, with over 70% of the Forest classified as Roadless or Wilderness. Despite the wild and remote nature of the Salmon-Challis, motorized recreation has slowly crept onto the land and eroded the unique values that define this wild Idaho landscape.
In our challenge, The Wilderness Society and our partners documented widespread abuse from motor vehicle use, including torn-up riparian areas, deep tire ruts, and evidence of ATV use in areas where it is currently illegal to ride.
While this decision is a big win for conservationists and public lands advocates in Idaho, it could have widespread implications for how land managers deal with off-road vehicles west-wide. The judge made it clear in his decision that the Forest Service has a duty to protect public lands where off-road vehicles are damaging natural resources that belong to all Americans.
Because of the judge’s decision, the Forest Service will have to go back and develop a new travel plan that designates motorized roads and trails. The Wilderness Society and our partners will continue to work with the Forest Service to develop a plan that protects special places while providing recreational opportunities for all. This time, we hope the Forest Service gets it right.
ATV rut at Swauger Lake in the Salmon-Challis, Idaho. Photo by Brad Smith, Idaho Conservation League.
Damaged trail in Winnemucca Creek in the Salmon-Challis, Idaho. Photo by Brad Smith, Idaho Conservation League.