End De-Facto Wilderness Policy in Montana

Millions of acres of prime recreational opportunities in Montana are threatened with closure. Your action could mean the difference between a "closed" sign and a "trail open" sign. Please take a moment to read the information below and act on the action items.

The Situation:

BRC, with help from Craig Osterman, Executive Director of the Treasure State Alliance (a new OHV umbrella group in Montana) has been tracking Forest Plan revisions for many months. Despite our efforts working within the planning process, the U.S. Forest Service is planning a de-facto Wilderness management regime on all "Recommended Wilderness Areas" (RWA).

Under normal circumstances, the "Recommended" Wilderness classification is just that: a recommendation. The decision of "whether Wilderness" is supposed to be left to Congress and the American People.

Sadly, the Northern Region of the U.S. Forest Service seems to think they, not Congress, have the authority to manage these lands — as Wilderness! New Forest Plans state that RWAs will now become closed to all motorized use, including winter snowmobile use.

Why you should care:

The US Forest Service Region 1 (Northern Region) manages 25 million acres of public national forest and grasslands in Montana, North Dakota, northeast Washington, northern Idaho, and northwest South Dakota.

New Forest Plans, under the guidance of the Northern Region Forester, dictate that large areas will be classified as RWAs. Thousands of acres of prime recreational lands will be included as RWAs in these new Plans. The new plans direct that RWAs will now become closed to winter snowmobile use and all other forms of motorized recreation.

No law or Forest Service policy requires the Forest Service to take such a drastic action. These closures would apparently be immediately imposed upon the completion of the new Forest Plan. No attempt will be made to postpone these closures until Congress passes legislation to legally designate these forest lands as Wilderness!

Only Congress has the authority to create designated Wilderness, but these RWAs are being treated as de-facto wilderness under the Region 1 Forester's direction as soon as they are created. This unlawful policy must be stopped immediately.

Pro-access groups such as the BlueRibbon Coalition, the Snowmobile Alliance of Western States and the Treasure State Alliance are committed to end to this abuse of power.

But we can't do it without your help. These Forest Plan Revision projects are nearing completion, so please respond today.

RWA Action Items

What you need to do:



“If this is not successfully changed, such a policy has the very real potential to go far beyond just closing areas with ‘wilderness character.’ If federal land managers are allowed to apply this sort management, America’s spectacular scenic backcountry will become the exclusive playground of the politically well-connected.”
– Brian Hawthorne, Public Lands Policy Director, BlueRibbon Coalition

Dear BRC Action Alert Subscriber,

Idaho’s Clearwater National Forest has released a “Proposed Action” for the summer and winter motorized and mountain bike Travel Plan. It is the first time a National Forest in Region 1 (in northern Idaho and Montana) has attempted site-specific implementation of their new (and unlawful) de-facto Wilderness policy. The “Proposed Action” proposes removing all motorized and mountain bike uses from “Recommended Wilderness Areas” (RWA).

In the “picture = 1000 words” department, take a look at this (click image to enlarge):

Maps Legend

Congressionally designated Wilderness and “Recommended Wilderness Areas” all shown on the same map, in the same color. -- Same map. Same management.

Speaking specifically for the Clearwater NF, implementation of this lousy policy will result in closure of 44%, or 178 miles of single-track motorcycle trails and some of the best backcountry snowmobile trails left in these parts.

But that’s just for the Clearwater. If allowed to continue across the Region, or worse, become a National policy, this de-facto wilderness management will be the single greatest threat to motorized and mountain bike recreation... ever.

Fortunately, at this early stage in the process, a “cut and paste” email effort can be effective. Please take just a second to send a quick email to the Forest Service. The simple instructions are below.

Please help us fight this policy.

Brian Hawthorne
Public Lands Policy Director
BlueRibbon Coalition
208-237-1008 ext 102

PS: I want to stress the importance of this issue. If you’ve never responded to a BRC Action Alert, please make this your first time. Please take action today!

Clearwater National Forest Action Alert:


The deadline to comment on a draft winter and summer Travel Plan for the Clearwater National Forest is set for January 11, 2008. This is the first time a National Forest in Region 1 has attempted site specific implementation of their new (and unlawful) de-facto Wilderness policy. COMMENTS ARE URGENTLY NEEDED


Obviously, any de-facto Wilderness policy is bad enough. But the situation here is even worse. I’ve been trying to find a clever way to explain exactly why this policy concerns BRC so much. Let me try to explain it this way:

The inventory criteria used by the FS to determine which of their lands they recommend for congressional Wilderness designation allows motorized and mountain bike uses to exist. But the management direction for lands recommended for congressional Wilderness designation mandates the elimination of motorized and mountain bike uses.

This, valued BRC member, is the very definition of arbitrary and capricious.

If this is not successfully changed, such a policy has the very real potential to go far beyond just closing areas with “wilderness character.” If federal land managers are allowed to apply this sort management, America’s spectacular scenic backcountry will become the exclusive playground of the politically well connected.


Send a simple email comment to the Clearwater.

Here is a link to Clearwater’s Travel Plan webpage:

The email address is:

IMPORTANT: Put "Comments on Clearwater National Forest Travel Plan” in the subject line and be certain to include your name and address. A return email address is NOT sufficient! (FS often discards "anonymous" email comments.) Copy the text below and paste into your email.

Lois Foster, Travel Plan Interdisciplinary Team Leader
Lochsa Ranger District, Kamiah Ranger Station
Rt. 2 Box 191
Kamiah, ID 83536

I would like to make the following comments on the Clearwater National Forest Travel Plan. The comment is made using the “issues in the form of questions” format. Please consider these questions in the Alternative development and please also include a full discussion of each question in the EIS. I also request the EIS include a discussion and brief analysis of previous Congressional Wilderness designations so the public may understand how the existence of motorized uses actually impacts Congress’s ability to designate Wilderness.

Question 1) In Montana Wilderness Assoc. v. U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. District Court of Montana found that Congress required the Forest Service to strike—and maintain—a balance between wilderness character and motorized use in WSAs established by that Act. Given that Congress envisioned motorized uses in Wilderness Study Areas they established, what is the Forest Service’s rationale for excluding motorized uses in Recommended Wilderness Areas (RWAs)?

Question 2) If the existence of motorized uses does not preclude an area from being designated as an RWA, then what is the Forest Service’s rationale for eliminating motorized uses in RWAs?

Question 3) What level of motorized or mountain bike use would disqualify an area from being a RWA?

Question 4) In the Eastern Wilderness Act, Congress designated areas Wilderness that contained motorized uses, structures, maintained roads and even sections of paved roads. Has the Forest Service studied the level of motorized uses that actually precludes Congress from designating an area Wilderness?