Suing for Quiet Recreation in the Forest
Host: Rebecca Williams
Show date: 12/16/2010
A man whoís 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:
(sound of Meister walking in the forest)
In recent years, he says, when heíd take his daughters for hikes in the fall and theyíd hear gunshots, the girls would want to turn back and go home.
Meister says thatís why he raised questions about quiet recreation when the forest service updated its plan a couple of years ago.
MEISTER: ďThis case isnít about hunting. Itís not about gun hunting. Itís not about stopping gun hunting. Itís simply saying it shouldnít be everywhere. And if you make it everywhere, youíre affecting other peopleís rights.Ē
Meister is trained as an attorney and heís suing the forest service as one citizen.
Itís unusual to get as far as he has with his challenge.
That may be why managers didnít 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: ďReally, 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 didnít seem reasonable to develop a separate alternative that looked at this issue that one person was raising.Ē
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: ďDo the snowmobilers care? Probably not. Unless the cross country skiers get in their way theyíre 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 canít see the animals, if they canít just enjoy the sounds and the quiet of the forest itís a very different experience for them.Ē
Forest Service officials say they donít 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: ďSimply by virtue of the fact that there arenít snowmobile trails in those areas and there arenít a lot of people using them to a large extent.Ē
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 isnít under any illusion, though, that in the end heís going to get 70,000 acres set aside for quiet uses.
For the Environment Report, Iím Bob Allen.
Host tag: The Forest Service is now re-working their plan for the Huron-Manistee. They either have to include Kurt Meisterís suggestions or prove to the Court why his ideas wonít work.
Thatís the Environment Report. Iím Rebecca Williams.