Montana Environmental Group Sues the U.S. Forest Service Over Flathead River Management Plan

On Monday, environmental group Friends of the Flathead River filed a complaint in the District of Montana against the U.S. Forest Service to compel the long overdue review and update of the Flathead Comprehensive River Management Plan. The plaintiff alleges the U.S. Forest Service violated of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (WSRA), the Forest Service Organic Administration Act of 1897 (Organic Act) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). 

According to the complaint, Friends of the Flathead River is a Montana nonprofit with the mission to protect and preserve the Flathead River watershed. Further, the complaint states that the U.S. Forest Service is the agency responsible for the designation of the Flathead River wild and scenic segments and compliance with the WSRA and Organic Act. 

The complaint purports that in 1976, Congress designated 219 miles of the Flathead River as part of the National Wild and Scenic River System under the WSRA. As part of the National Wild and Scenic River System, the Forest Service completed the Flathead Wild and Scenic River Management Plan in 1980. 

Accordingly, the plan was intended to protect and enhance the quality of the Flathead River through the management and control of sanitary facilities in addition to limiting the use of motorized vehicle travel to protect natural resources, among other provisions. Additionally, the complaint notes that the plan was intended to serve as a comprehensive document for management of the Flathead National Wild and Scenic River for a five-year period, which would be reviewed yearly. 

The plaintiff alleges that since at least 2020, the use of motorized vehicles on the banks of the Flathead River has grown exponentially and the Forest Service has admittedly failed to adequately monitor or manage the increased usage. The plaintiff argues that the increased use of motorized vehicles has degraded the water quality of the River and the increase of visitors and campers using vehicles has led to the pollution of trash and waste in and around the River. As a result, Friends of the Flathead River filed the present action to compel the Forest Service to review and update the Flathead Comprehensive River Management Plan.

The complaint further alleges that in 2017 the Forest Service started the process to prepare a new Comprehensive River Management Plan for the Flathead River and released a Scoping Release in 2019. Further, in November 2021, the Forest Service allegedly stated it would resume the planning process, but no Environmental Assessment has been prepared or released to date. 

The plaintiff brings the present suit for declaratory and injunctive relief, attorney’s fees and costs for the defendant’s alleged violations of the WSRA, Organic Act and the APA.

The plaintiff is represented by Weinberg & Hromadka, PLLC and Morrison, Sherwood, Wilson & Deola, PLLP.