The trail access restriction is the result of a lawsuit against the Forest Service’s management of the WSA. According to an IMBA press release, three groups (The Greater Yellowstone Coalition, Montana Wilderness Association and The Wilderness Society) “…contended that the Forest Service failed to preserve the wilderness character of the study area.” The Gallatin National Forest office oversees the Hyalite-Porcupine-Buffalo Horn WSA, and they have already filed an appeal. However, the appeals process can take up to two years to wind through the court system. Gallatin officials are hopeful that congressional action will dictate management of WSAs, essentially overturning this recent decision. Unfortunately it “could take decades” until any such action sees the light of day. As of right now, the appeals process is the best hope, but trail access will have to be restricted until a positive decision is reached.
What’s really interesting is that in his decision, U.S. District Judge Donald W. Molloy “…did not cite a resource concern with regard to wilderness character.” According to an article in the Billings Gazette, Marna Daley, public affairs officer for the Gallatin National Forest said, “…the only thing we can address is the opportunity for solitude.” As such, about 20 miles of trail on the perimeter of the WSA has been kept open to mountain bikes, thus allowing the core of the area to have an “increased opportunity for solitude.”
But wait…there’s more! Even more frustrating is that mountain bikes have been lumped in with motorcycles in this lawsuit. We’ve heard that argument before, and it’s always annoying. What’s worse is, at least in this case, motorcycles are granted more trail access (40 miles, as opposed to 20 for mountain bikes) than mountain bikes in the WSA!
Anyway…There’s a chance this decision could be precedent-setting, thus having an impact across the country. It’s time to get motivated, people—aside from working closely with your local advocacy groups and organizations, there are a few things you can do to help: