A Lawsuit That Challenged MTB Access in the Tetons Has Been Dismissed

Photo: Chris Daniels

A lawsuit filed by a hunting group which challenged mountain bike access in the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) has been dismissed. The Jackson Hole News and Guide reports that a federal judge “dismissed the challenge to mountain bike and ATV use in the study areas because she determined that the plaintiff lacked legal standing.” We reported on the legal challenge in 2019.

The lawsuit said that the US Forest Service (USFS) should have restored access around Teton Pass in the Palisades Wilderness Study Area and Shoal Creek Wilderness Study Area (WSA) to how it existed at the time of its development in 1984 with the Wyoming Wilderness Act. Since mountain biking wasn’t mentioned in the Act, nor the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Mountain Pursuits hunting group found the BTNF’s travel management plan inconsistent with both. Mountain Pursuit also included off-highway vehicles in their complaint. Both mountain biking and ATV use in the area has increased over the years, they said.

Mountain Pursuit first sent a letter in April 2019 to the BTNF supervisor ahead of the lawsuit.

“Mountain biking in the Palisades WSA, especially, has exploded in recent years, to include Forest Service approved new trail construction for the extensive and growing system accessed off of Teton Pass,” wrote Mountain Pursuit. “The negative impacts of motorized and mechanized (MTB) travel on big game, specifically elk and deer, are significant.”

The mountain bike traffic mentioned was mostly in regards to the Lithium trail, which most mountain bikers shuttle up Teton Pass to ride, and the Black Canyon trail. Their lawsuit cited a study about the impact of recreational trail users on wildlife conducted in the Starkey Experimental Forest in Oregon.

“The study supports Plaintiff’s concerns that recreation management on public forests can displace elk to private lands during hunting season,” Mountain Pursuit wrote in their lawsuit.

The federal judge, Nancy D. Freudenthal, said that the group’s lawsuit “reinforces the conclusion that Mountain Pursuit cannot specifically identify a cognizable final agency action for judicial review under the APA.” Basically, because the group challenged the BTNF’s supposed 30 years of mismanagement, rather than any one agency decision, the complaint could not stand.

“As to those allegations which appear to allege actions, Mountain Pursuit fails to identify beyond generalization the planning decisions, designations or management action(s) that would constitute a USFS rule, order, license, sanction, relief or equivalent from which ‘rights or obligations have been determined or from which legal consequences will flow.’ It is Mountain Pursuit’s burden to identify a discrete and legally-required action that the USFS failed to take.”

In a newsletter cited by Jackson Hole News and Guide, Mountain Pursuit said that they were not disappointed with the decision, that they have learned a lot, and that they wanted to demonstrate that hunting groups care about wildlife and habitat. They are also quoted as saying that they are looking for another issue to litigate.

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