By Justin McDaniel, Assistant Editor, www.NRAhuntersrights.org
Fairfax, VA--(Ammoland.com)- A single citizen’s five-year legal battle to end gun hunting and snowmobiling in portions of Michigan’s Huron-Manistee National Forests —an effort that very well could have jeopardized hunting in all national forests— reached its likely end last week, when the U.S. Forest Service announced that both activities will be allowed to continue.
That decision stems from a 2010 ruling by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that the Forest Service failed to comply with several of its own regulations and a federal statute during revision of the 2006 Land and Resource Management Plan for the Huron-Manistee National Forests.
Kurt Meister, a forest user who owns a cabin in nearby Cadillac, Mich., filed suit in 2007 alleging that the management plan for Huron-Manistee favored gun hunting and snowmobile riding over “quiet” recreational activities. He sought to have approximately 66,500 acres of semi-primitive, non-motorized areas set aside for quiet uses.
His complaint was originally thrown out by a federal district judge in Detroit, but Meister won on appeal.
Specifically, the court found that the Forest Service (1) did not coordinate its planning with the state of Michigan, as required, to reduce duplication of recreational activities with respect to firearm hunting and snowmobiling, and (2) violated the National Environmental Policy Act when it failed to consider closing 13 semi-primitive, non-motorized areas and the Nordhouse Dunes Wilderness Area to gun hunting and snowmobiles.
In response to that lawsuit, Huron-Manistee officials amended the management plan, offering four alternatives ranging from taking no action —which would have flown in the face of the court’s ruling— to ending gun hunting and snowmobiling on 14 different areas of the forest.
The agency instead opted to reclassify 13 of those 14 areas to management designations that imply more noise but still allow for “more secluded” and “less roaded” recreation relative to the rest of the forests’ nearly 1 million acres.
This preferred alternative (Alternative 4 in the draft plan) allows gun hunting and snowmobile use to continue and was supported by NRA and more than 30 other pro-hunting organizations via a letter submitted to the Forest Service in October. The Record of Decision implementing the preferred alternative, signed on Jan. 27 by Regional Forester Charles L. Myers, says the Forest Service will:
- — Continue to allow gun hunting in the previously designated semi-primitive, non-motorized and primitive areas of the Huron-Manistee National Forests in accordance with regulations of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, and
- — Continue to allow snowmobiling on designated trails within the Huron-Manistee National Forests.
Hunters should take note, however, that the plan still must clear several hurdles before it becomes final.
For starters, forest spokesperson Ken Arbogast said the Department of Justice will submit the Record of Decision on the Forest Service’s behalf to the U.S. District Court in Detroit, which will determine if the plan complies with the Sixth Circuit’s ruling.
The decision will also be open to a 45-day public appeal period.
Despite these pitfalls, it looks as if a precedent-setting ban on gun hunting has been averted, at least for the time being.
“The Forest Service made the right decision to keep secluded areas open to gun hunting, but in changing the land designations, the agency creates the impression that gun hunting should be excluded from semi-primitive and primitive areas,” said Susan Recce, NRA Director of Conservation, Wildlife and Natural Resources.
“The only way to protect gun hunting on national forests, regardless of individual land designations, and to stop these frivolous lawsuits, is for Congress to enact H.R. 2834.”
Supported by NRA, the U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, Safari Club International, Congressional Sportsmen Foundation, and the American Sportfishing Association, among other conservation groups, H.R. 2834, the Recreational Fishing and Hunting Heritage and Opportunities Act, safeguards hunting, fishing and recreational shooting from arbitrary closure on federal lands.
The bill states that lands under Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service jurisdiction, including lands designated as wilderness, or administratively classified as wilderness eligible or suitable, and primitive or semi-primitive areas, shall be open for fishing, hunting and shooting unless the managing agency acts to close lands to such activity.
The closures or restrictions must be necessary and reasonable and supported by facts and evidence.
H.R. 2834 also corrects another problem that the ruling created with respect to duplication of activities. The court’s ruling suggested that the Forest Service, by its own planning rule, had to look outside the boundaries of the Huron-Manistee to see if hunting was allowed on non-forest lands, implying that the agency should close forest lands to hunting if other nearby state or federal lands were also open to hunting.
An analysis completed by Huron-Manistee officials and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources found that there was no opportunity to reduce duplication because of public demand for hunting and snowmobiling opportunities in more secluded areas.
However, H.R. 2834 removes any obligation for federal land managers to consider sportsmen’s activities on other lands when planning for public use on its own lands.
H.R. 2834 is expected to reach the House floor in March, and a Senate version of the bill was introduced by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) on Thursday, Feb. 2.
For additional information on H.R. 2834, please read: NRA Fights to Secure Access to Federal Lands
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