Judge Rejects Lawsuit Filed Against Flathead National Forest

By Beacon Staff

A federal judge has rejected a lawsuit filed by Montanans for Multiple Use over amendments made to the Flathead National Forest plan, saying the group did not appeal each amendment as it was made.

The lawsuit, filed five years ago, was largely aimed at the forest’s adoption of 23 amendments to its forest plan since 1986. The suit claimed the amendments amounted to a “piecemeal” de facto revision of the forest plan — a major policy change that did not involve adequate review.

A March 31 ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Hogan of Washington, D.C., found that Montanans for Multiple Use did not adequately pursue administrative appeals as the amendments were proposed and adopted.

Hogan wrote that the plaintiffs “had either 45 or 90 days to file a notice of appeal from the date specified in the public legal notice, depending on whether they chose to challenge the amendments as advertised … or as they alleged them to be — de facto revision masquerading as a mere series of non-significant amendments. They did neither.”

The lawsuit also claimed that the Flathead Forest had failed to revise its forest plan within 15 years as required by the National Forest Management Act. The 1986 plan is still in effect, and the Flathead Forest and several other national forests in Montana are currently engaged in a revision process.

Hogan acknowledged the 15-year deadline.

“However,” he wrote, “Congress repeatedly passed legislation extending the statutory deadline. In 2007, Congress extended the deadline through Oct. 1, 2008.”

A phone call seeking comment from Fred Hodgeboom, the multiple use group’s president, was not immediately returned Tuesday.

Rob Carlin, the Flathead Forest’s lead planner, was pleased with the outcome.

“We are pleased with the court’s ruling and will continue working to achieve the balance that multiple use management requires on National Forest System lands,” Carlin said.

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