A lawsuit that sought to ban mountain bikers from the Palisades Wilderness Study Area in Wyoming has been thrown out, the Jackson Hole News and Guide reports
Wilderness Study Areas are protected areas of land that may one day be designated as Wilderness
. Unlike in true Wilderness areas, motorized and mechanized activities like mountain biking are allowed in Wilderness Study Areas so long as the level of use remains similar to the time of designation.
The lawsuit was filed in 2019 by Mountain Pursuit, a group that advocates on behalf of Wyoming's hunters. It was an attempt to sue the Bridger-Teton National Forest (BTNF) for allowing mountain bike access and argued that mountain bikers and ATV drivers were in danger of eroding the Wilderness eligibility of the Palisades. Mountain Pursuit particularly cited increased mountain biking in Black Canyon and on the Lithium Trail near Teton Pass, and it described a "negative impact...on big game, specifically elk and deer." The lawsuit also targeted ATV use in the Shoal Creek Wilderness Study Area.
However, U.S. District Court Judge Nancy Freudenthal dismissed the case as it had no legal standing. "In short, Mountain Pursuit does not identify the specific federal conduct, decision or action at issue and, because of that, it fails to explain how any of the general allegations... would constitute final agency action," she said. "It is Mountain Pursuit’s burden to identify a discrete and legally-required action that the [U.S. Forest Service] failed to take.”
The judge believed that Mountain Pursuit took issue with “about 30 years of perceived U.S. Forest Service mismanagement of certain trails,” rather than a specific unlawful decision, and dismissed the case. After an earlier initial dismissal, Mountain Pursuit's attorneys amended the complaint, but Freudenthal ruled again that the group failed to identify a specific action from the past six years.
The case was thrown out in August last year, but it was not widely publicized until Mountain Pursuit's founder, Rob Shoal, wrote about it in the organization's newsletter. He said, "What we really wanted to do was demonstrate that hunting organizations truly care about wildlife and habitat. We learned a lot with our lawsuit against the U.S. Forest Service and are looking for another issue to litigate.”
Freudenthal's order can be read here