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Judge hears arguments over SW Montana forest plan

By The Associated Press
Published On: Jul 21 2013 10:58:59 AM MDT
Forest Service
BUTTE, Mont. -

A federal judge has heard a challenge to a U.S. Forest Service plan to bar snowmobiles, dirt bikes and off-road vehicles from 322,000 acres of recommended wilderness in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest.
Twenty-two plaintiffs led by Beaverhead County commissioners sued the Forest Service in 2010.  They include snowmobile and off-road vehicle groups, ranchers and mining organizations.
They told U.S. District Judge Sam Haddon Friday the Forest Service decided to bar motorized and mechanized use in recommended wilderness areas without consulting them and without conducting a proper environmental analysis.
Attorneys for the Forest Service say the decision was made after a transparent and responsive process that lasted seven years. They say the agency considered the plaintiffs' comments, but had no duty to accept them.
Haddon did not make an immediate ruling.