Backcountry pilots applaud Monument court decision

GREAT FALLS, Montana –Officials with the Recreational Aviation Foundation (RAF) report that a recent decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals largely upholds the backcountry airstrip designations on Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument.

The RAF and Montana Pilots’ Association mobilized early on in the Bureau of Land Management planning process to retain the airstrips, RAF officials said.

“This is the vital role the RAF plays in preserving recreational use airstrips on public lands. This outcome matches our mission perfectly,” observed John McKenna, RAF president. “We are relieved to see the Ninth Circuit support the BLM’s reasonable approach for the continued use of six airstrips in the Monument.”

The Monument was created by President Clinton during his final days in office in January 2001, and comprises about 375,000 acres and 149 miles of the Missouri River. The BLM Management Plan did not authorize new impacts, but applied some restrictions to long-existing uses of the Monument, such as roads and airstrips.

A suit challenging the resulting plan was filed by preservation groups led by the Montana Wilderness Association and The Wilderness Society, triggering RAF and MPA action to file as intervenors in the district court proceedings. The Missouri River Stewards and Fergus, Phillips, Blaine and Choteau counties joined in defending BLM’s management plan.

“We have worked many years alongside the Bureau of Land Management and other interests seeking a balanced management plan that can be a model for other Monuments,” McKenna concluded.

The Ninth Circuit did rule in the preservationist plaintiffs’ favor on a single narrow issue, directing BLM to conduct a more intensive “Class III inventory” of the roads, ways and airstrips designated for continuing use. Costs of appeal are normally applied in favor of the prevailing party, but the court specifically ordered each party to bear its own costs, RAF officials note.

The aviation groups were represented by Paul Turcke of Boise, Idaho, and Rob Cameron of Helena. A copy of the court’s decision may be viewed HERE.

The Recreational Aviation Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)(3) charitable organization headquartered in Bozeman, Montana. For more information: 406-582-1723; TheRAF.org

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