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KALISPELL – Snowmobile clubs and advocacy groups from Montana and Idaho are suing over a U.S. Forest Service plan that bars motorized access in certain areas of the Kootenai National Forest in northwestern Montana.

The forest plan, finalized in January, designates 115,000 acres as recommended wilderness areas and eliminated mechanized and motorized means of transport in those places.

The lawsuit filed in federal court earlier this month alleges the plan fails to follow Forest Service guidelines for recommended wilderness areas.

"A lot of wilderness has exceptions," plaintiffs' attorney Robert Bell said. "Some of the recent wilderness designations, for instance, have allowed specific roads to be traveled."

The lawsuit also says forest officials did not allow enough public comment before deciding on the recommended wilderness area designations and questions how Kootenai officials proposed additions to the national Wild and Scenic Rivers system.

The last forest plan, completed in 1987, had found that 112 miles of streams and rivers in the Kootenai were eligible for the Wild and Scenic designation. Kootenai forest officials identified about 63 miles of waterways as eligible in its draft environmental analysis for the new plan.

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The lawsuit alleges that Kootenai officials removed some waterway segments and added others after receiving objections from environmental groups. The result was an increase in the total mileage in the final plan, which did not go through public scrutiny, the plaintiffs said.

Officials with the Kootenai National Forest declined to comment on the pending litigation. They have 60 days to respond to the suit.

The plaintiffs in the case are the Ten Lakes Snowmobile Club, Montanans for Multiple Use, Citizens for Balanced Use, the Glen Lake Irrigation District, Backcountry Sled Patriots, the Idaho State Snowmobile Association and the Blueribbon Coalition.

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