Bitterroot Travel Plan Litigation Decision

posted Jul 2, 2018, 12:20 PM by Lance Pysher





Contact:         Paul Turcke     208-331-1800


DATE: July 2, 2018


MISSOULA, MT – The United States District Court for the District of Montana ruled late last week that the Bitterroot National Forest Travel Plan violated the law, and must be reconsidered by the Forest.  The ruling, signed by Chief Judge Dana L. Christensen, found that restrictions on mountain biking in Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) were arbitrary and capricious because the Forest Service closed these Areas to biking without providing for sufficient public comment.  Other aspects of the Travel Plan were upheld against the Plaintiffs’ challenges, including restrictions in Recommended Wilderness Area and on motorized use by snowmobiles and ATVs.


The Plaintiffs in the lawsuit are a collection of backcountry recreation groups, including the Bitterroot Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club, Ravalli County Off-Road User Association, Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists, Montana Trail Vehicle Riders Association, Montana Snowmobile Association, Citizens for Balanced Use, Backcountry Sled Patriots.  They are represented by lead counsel Paul Turcke from Boise, Idaho, and local counsel Rob Bell from Missoula.


“We are disappointed that the Court did not set aside the Bitterroot Travel Plan in its entirety, because it is a Plan that further restricts public access in a Forest that is already heavily restricted,” said Dan Thompson of the Ridge Runners.  “The trails in the Blue Joint and Sapphire WSAs do provide an epic backcountry experience that all riders and hikers have enjoyed largely in solitude for decades,” added Dr. Lance Pysher with the Backcountry Cyclists.  “We will be closely monitoring the reaction of the Forest Service and evaluating all of our options moving forward,” Thompson concluded.


The Court’s Order declares that the improper bicycle restrictions are invalid and that the rules previously in force will take effect while the Forest Service reconsiders how to address biking in the WSAs. 

Spring membership Drive

posted Apr 4, 2018, 8:17 AM by Lance Pysher

Spring is in the air and the trails are drying out.  That means its time to join or renew your membership to help us maintain and build new trail in the Bitterroot Valley.

Bitterroot Travel Plan Litigation

posted Jan 27, 2017, 11:10 AM by Lance Pysher

After much deliberation we have chosen to join with other local user groups to litigate the 178 miles of trail closed by the travel plan. We don't take this step lightly. Unfortunately we are left with no other option to retain access to these trails that have been quietly riding without impact for decades.  The Forest Service was unable to document and impact from our use. Instead this is a political decision to make future wilderness designation easier.  Donations accepted at Save Montana Trails.  More coverage of this issue at Bike and Singletracks

Flathead Forest Plan Letter

posted Sep 30, 2016, 2:07 PM by Lance Pysher

Chip Weber

Forest Supervisor

Flathead National Forest

650 Wolfpack Way

Kalispell, MT 59901

Forest Supervisor Weber;

It is frequently claimed that mountain biking was invented in northern California in the late 1970s by a group of individuals riding “klunkers.” Those of us in Montana with our love of the outdoors know better.  In 1896, the Buffalo Soldiers of Fort Missoula were well documented bikepacking from Missoula to McDonald Lake in the Mission Mountains of the Flathead and later the same year to Yellowstone and back.  Subsequently in 1897 they performed an adventurous trek to St. Louis with conditions and marginal dirt roads nearly as challenging as anything modern mountain bikers attempt.  The digital archives of the Mansfield library document that using bikes to access Montana’s natural wonders was not limited to these soldiers.  Photos such as “The Lonely Wheelman Fording a  Mountain Stream” ( and “Woman on a bicycle” ( demonstrate that over a century ago, people had discovered the joys of exploring Montana’s backcountry by bike.

This history of seeking human powered bike adventure continues in the Flathead where rides in Swan Range and Whitefish Range continue to be rated as some of the premier backcountry rides in the state, allowing for a high alpine experience increasing difficult to access in Montana outside of designated Wilderness. As such we request continued access to the Alpine #7 trail along with the related trails used for access, including: Six Mile, Hall Lake, Bond Creek, Jimmie Ridge, Doris Creek, Columbia Mountain, Napa Point, Middle Fork Bunker Creek, Bunker Creek, Chipmunk Peak, and Bruce Creek. While Jewel Basin Hiking Area has been traditionally restricted mountain  bike access, we request accommodation either through a boundary adjustment or “non-conforming” use on short segments along the Alpine #7 trail to allow connection between the north and south portions of the trail.

In the Whitefish Range, we support the Whitefish Range Partnership proposal for front country recreation at the southern end of the range. Farther north in the range, access to the Pacific Northwest Trail (#26) should maintain it’s Backcountry Non-Motorized designation with a small adjustment to the MA1b boundary from the junction with the Kootenai National Forest Trail #372 to near Whale Creek.

U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell was recently quoted as saying, “his agency is trying to manage 60 million acres in need of restoration with 40 percent fewer staff and dollars than he had a decade ago.” (  Mountain Bikers nationwide have proven to be dedicated and responsible stewards of our wild lands. Given these current budgetary restraints it is clear that managing our trails will require harnessing the enthusiasm of the mountain biking community as represented by the Flathead Flat Tires and other non-profits.  Furthermore, restricting trail access to these passionate advocates of the forest is short sighted and limits the pool of individuals who could potentially volunteer to restore and maintain trails most in need of help.

The intent of the Wilderness Act regarding bike access is inconclusive,  however the one mention of bicycles in the legislative record reflects the long history of seeking adventure on two wheels in Montana. The Rattlesnake National Recreation Area and Wilderness Act of 1980 recognized bikes as a form of primitive recreation appropriate for wilderness.  Over the last decade hundreds of miles of trails in Recommended Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas managed by the USFS have been closed to mountain bikes under the belief that “non-conforming uses” should be excluded from these areas. We strongly support the Alternative B inclusion of existing levels of non-conforming uses in recommended wilderness areas. First and foremost as the impact from bikes, hikers, and horse is similar, and as the DEIS reports,  “In heavily timbered landscapes such as the Flathead National Forest, there is no scientific evidence that dispersed mountain bike use, horse use, or hiking has any significant effect on wildlife populations.”  While the USFS is mandated to maintain the wilderness character of these lands, and the appellate decision for the McAllister, et al litigation in the Gallatin N.F. requires the assessment of impact of bikes use on both the physical and social character, this decision recommended again blanket restrictions as the preferred policy.  Furthermore the “Wilderness Management” manual by Hendee recommends using the minimum amount of regulation to achieve management goals. However it appears that Region One is using this decision to reinforce a policy to exclude bikes not on measurable impacts but rather to influence future legislative action on future wilderness designations. Statements from numerous sources such as Dave Bull,  director for recreation, minerals, lands, heritage and wilderness for the Northern Region from a New York Times article (  from 2007, “We can reduce the level of nonconforming uses so there’s not a contingency that then would cause Congress to have second thoughts on our recommendation,” and from the Bitterroot National Forest Travel Management Plan, “...allowing uses that do not conform to wilderness character creates a constituency that will have a strong propensity to oppose recommendation and any subsequent designation legislation. Management actions that create this operating environment will complicate the decision process for Forest Service managers and members of Congress. It is important that when the wilderness recommendations are made to Congress that they be unencumbered with issues that are exclusive to the wilderness allocation decision. Congress is not the appropriate forum in which to debate travel management decisions.”  Prior to the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964, one of the key areas of debate was whether the executive branch or the legislative branch should be in charge of wilderness designation, and one of the compromises made was transferring the authority to designate wilderness to congress ( The prior statements appear to reflect concerns at the time of passage,  “that requiring congressional approval of each individual area could prove to be a cumbersome barrier to rapid and equitable wilderness designation.”  The history of subsequent wilderness designations indicates that these concerns were well founded, but regardless congress recognized that wilderness allocation is a political decision and that the best arena for debate is the legislative branch. By claiming that the political climate is part of “social character” this policy expands the concept far beyond what the appellate court envisioned. In the precedents used by the appellate court in the previously mentioned McAllister litigation the impacts were direct and measurable such as the noise and visual disturbance of helicopters. We encourage the Flathead National Forest to manage Recommended Wilderness with a deft touch and restrict  “non-conforming uses”  only as the last option when no other options are available to maintain wilderness character.  A proactive analytic approach based on “right sizing” regulations can better manage these areas to allow continued multi-use recreation without jeopardizing the current social and physical wilderness character

Lance Pysher

President, Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists

LT Bike Fest

posted Aug 24, 2015, 8:24 AM by Lance Pysher   [ updated Aug 26, 2015, 10:30 AM ]

Lost Trail Bike Fest is still happening, a little smoke blowing in the from the west isn't going to deter us. Come up and ride Warm Springs Ridge, Fire Creek, Porcupine Creek and the trail out to Overwhich falls. Listen to music from The Trailheads and the John Adam Smith Band.

Vision for Como

posted Oct 31, 2014, 2:42 PM by Lance Pysher   [ updated Oct 31, 2014, 2:44 PM ]

We are still a long way away from this becoming a reality, but we hope to one day build a trail system on the south side of Como. 

National Trails Day

posted May 8, 2014, 3:13 PM by Lance Pysher   [ updated May 8, 2014, 3:19 PM ]

Despite the cool temps and plenty of white stuff up high, prime riding season is approaching.  Once again we
will be celebrating National Trail Day by clearing as many trails on Warm Springs Ridge as we can. If our recent rides have been any indication I expect mother nature has left us abundant chances to dull our blades and chains.  Hopefully the snow will be mostly gone. As usual we will provide beer and grub for anyone who shows up.

Saturday June 7
Meet at the Spring Gulch Campground at 9:30

Lost Trail Bike Fest and Shuttle Extravaganza

posted Jul 10, 2013, 7:52 AM by Lance Pysher

National Trail Day 2013

posted May 22, 2013, 2:58 PM by Lance Pysher   [ updated May 22, 2013, 3:02 PM ]

The riding has been pretty sweet the last few days.  Slowly the trails are being cleared of the winter's gift of downed trees.  Mark your calendars. Saturday June 1 will be our big clearing adventure of the year. You bring you saws, loppers,  chainsaws, hedgers, work gloves and we'll bring beer and burgers.  


We know people in Zootown come down here to ride and we know where you live. Since Lolo NF won't let you do trail work, here is your chance to practice, and contribute to keeping trails open.

Meet at the Spring Creek Campground (Junction of 93 and Medicine Springs Road, halfway between Conner and  Sula) at 9:00.  If we have enough people we might even manage to get some riding in.

Pint Night

posted Apr 15, 2013, 2:24 PM by Lance Pysher

As mountain bikers we love trails, whether buffed smooth or steep and rocky.  Luckily the Bitterroot Valley is surrounded by hundreds of miles of trails.  So many trails that the Forest Service has a challenge keeping them all open and useable.  That's where the Bitterroot Backcountry Cyclists come in.  Saws in tow, we clear, repair and sometimes  build new trails.

Last year on National Trails Day we cleared 30 miles of trails on and around Warm Springs Ridge including nearly the entire lengths of Warm Springs Ridge, Fire Creek, Porcupine Creek, and Warm Springs Creek to Two Good Cabin. Over the course of the summer we cleared over 80 miles of trails that were impassable due to dead fall.  Trails you love whether on bike, horse, or on foot

In addition, working with the Bitterroot Backcountry Horsemen we rebuilt a stream crossing in Coyote Coulee, and working with Como Trails we built a new trail to improve loops for cross country skiing in the winter and biking in the summer.

This year we will be out again with chainsaws, handsaws and lopers clearing off the winters downfall, and with shovels and pulaskis making other trails more sustainable and resilient. 

Please join us at the Bitterroot Brewery on May xx [time]… Funds raised will support our 100% volunteer efforts to keep the trails clear with the purchase of equipment and supplies. 

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