A federal judge has upheld a precedent-setting U.S. Forest Service decision to ban off-road vehicle (ORV) travel in the spectacular Badger-Two Medicine region of northern Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front. Located just southeast of Glacier National Park in the Lewis and Clark National Forest, the area hosts many rare wildlife species, including grizzly bears, wolves, lynx, wolverines, bighorn sheep and mountain goats.
Responding to a vast majority of public comments favoring non-motorized recreation in the 130,000-acre Badger-Two Medicine area, the Forest Service in March 2009 decided to prohibit ORV travel on the region’s 182 miles of trails and ban snowmobiling throughout the area. Although 700 miles of motorized trail remain open elsewhere on the forest, motorized vehicle users sued to overturn the Forest Service’s decision. Earthjustice, representing the Glacier-Two Medicine Alliance, The Wilderness Society and Montana Wilderness Association, entered the litigation to defend the Forest Service’s plan. The judge’s decision in the case, issued on January 20, 2010, rejected the motorized users’ challenge.
“The off-road travel ban for the Badger-Two Medicine region represents one of the most environmentally protective travel management decisions issued by the Forest Service anywhere in the nation, and the spectacular wild lands of the Badger-Two Medicine country deserve no less,” said Earthjustice lawyer Tim Preso. “The court’s ruling means that this irreplaceable landscape can continue to recover from years of damage from heavy ORV use.”
Prior to the new travel plan, the Badger-Two Medicine region had become a magnet for ORV use, with severe damaging effects on soils, streams and members of the public who attempted to enjoy the area by hiking and horse packing. Montana’s state fish and game agency commented in 2005 that the Badger-Two Medicine region “remains the most abused and impacted area on the Rocky Mountain District” of the Lewis and Clark forest, with “more evidence of trail pioneering and cross-country [ORV] activity than any of the other units.” The new travel plan remedied that problem by reserving the Badger-Two Medicine region for traditional non-motorized recreation. The decision also respected the wishes of the Blackfeet Indian Nation, for whom the Badger-Two Medicine region is an important spiritual area. Because of its significance for the Blackfeet Tribe, approximately 93,000 acres of the Badger-Two Medicine region have been listed in the National Register of Historic Places as a Traditional Cultural District, and two recent ethnographic studies indicate that the remainder may be eligible as well.
Earthjustice’s work on the Badger-Two Medicine case is part of a larger campaign to protect the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem, which encompasses Glacier National Park and surrounding lands. Earthjustice’s other efforts in this campaign include a highly successful petition to protect the ecologically critical Flathead River valley located on the west side of Glacier park.