Suing for Quiet Recreation in the Forest

  • A stand of red pine trees in the Huron-Manistee National Forest. (Photo courtesy of Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service)

A man who’s been dogging the U.S Forest Service to make some parts of the Huron Manistee Forest off limits to gun hunters and snowmobilers won his case in federal court this fall.

As Bob Allen reports, the Court says forest managers have to consider setting aside roughly 70,000 acres for quiet uses such as hiking, bird watching and cross country skiing:


Kurt Meister’s family has had a cottage near Cadillac since he was a kid. So he grew up exploring the woods and streams of the national forest.

(sound of Meister walking in the forest)

In recent years, he says, when he’d take his daughters for hikes in the fall and they’d hear gunshots, the girls would want to turn back and go home.

Meister says that’s why he raised questions about quiet recreation when the forest service updated its plan a couple of years ago.

MEISTER: “This case isn’t about hunting. It’s not about gun hunting. It’s not about stopping gun hunting. It’s simply saying it shouldn’t be everywhere. And if you make it everywhere, you’re affecting other people’s rights.”

Meister is trained as an attorney and he’s suing the forest service as one citizen.

It’s unusual to get as far as he has with his challenge.

That may be why managers didn’t seriously consider his suggestion to close parts of the forest to gun hunters and snowmobilers.

Jeff Pullen is a biologist in charge of writing the plan for the Huron Manistee.

PULLEN: “Really, if you look at the 2,000 or so comments we got on the plan, we had one person asking for this. And we felt, from an agency perspective, it didn’t seem reasonable to develop a separate alternative that looked at this issue that one person was raising.”

But the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals disagrees with the Forest Service.

It says the agency was arbitrary in its decisions.

What Kurt Meister is asking the court to do is set aside areas designated as non-motorized for quiet recreation.

Those are places where, on paper, the forest plan says a person can expect to be isolated from the sights and sounds of other humans.

But on the ground, Meister says, what happens is that snowmobile trails and cross country ski trails run side by side.

MEISTER: “Do the snowmobilers care? Probably not. Unless the cross country skiers get in their way they’re going to be OK with that. Do the cross country skiers care? Yeah, they care a lot because if they have to smell the exhaust fumes, if they can’t see the animals, if they can’t just enjoy the sounds and the quiet of the forest it’s a very different experience for them.”

Forest Service officials say they don’t have control over all the roads and trails that are laced throughout the Huron Manistee.

But planner Jeff Pullen says you can still find quiet places even outside the non-motorized areas to ski or snowshoe.

Pullen: “Simply by virtue of the fact that there aren’t snowmobile trails in those areas and there aren’t a lot of people using them to a large extent.”

Pullen says the forest service approach is to allow as many different types of users as possible in all areas of the forest while minimizing conflicts among them.

But Kurt Meister says with nearly a million acres in the Huron Manistee managers ought to be able to carve out places for all the different users to do their thing without interfering with anyone else.

He isn’t under any illusion, though, that in the end he’s going to get 70,000 acres set aside for quiet uses.

For the Environment Report, I’m Bob Allen.

Host tag: The Forest Service is now re-working their plan for the Huron-Manistee. They either have to include Kurt Meister’s suggestions or prove to the Court why his ideas won’t work.

That’s the Environment Report. I’m Rebecca Williams.