All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs)

Overview

MVCC works to ensure that wheeled all-terrain vehicles (WATVs) are managed responsibly. Without regulations, monitoring and enforcement, WATVs can destroy vegetation, cause erosion that clogs streams, harass wildlife, and destroy fish habitat by driving in streams, among other damage. MVCC is concerned that a number of recent actions at the county, state and federal level may result in indiscriminate opening of roads to WATVs, inadequate enforcement, and environmental harm.

Update:

Court order requires closure of 600 miles of roads to ATVs

1-5-17

The legal challenge brought by MVCC and Conservation Northwest to Okanogan County’s 2014 ATV Ordinance is finally complete, with a resounding victory for common sense.

You may recall that the ordinance indiscriminately opened almost 600 miles of county roads to ATVs, without accounting for the ecological effects of “bad actors” going off-road near streams or wetlands, steep slopes, and other sensitive areas.

On January 4, the State Supreme Court refused to hear the County’s request to revisit an earlier decision by the Court of Appeals, which had declared the ordinance illegal and invalid. This means that the ruling to invalidate the County’s ATV Ordinance is final!

In case you’ve forgotten the history of this case, click here for a quick recap, or visit the ATV page on our website.

We expect the Court of Appeals decision to become effective in about a month. All roads that the 2014 Ordinance opened to ATVs will be closed to their use.   The County will be required to remove signs that ATVs are allowed on those roads. We will also ask the County to publicize the fact that those roads are now closed to ATVs.

As the Court of Appeals noted, “the county is free to enact another ATV Ordinance,” as long as it complies with SEPA. MVCC respects the recreational value of law-abiding ATVers in the right locations. Our goal is to assure that unregulated ATV use does not lead to degradation of fragile ecosystems, trails, fish and wildlife, or negatively affect neighborhoods. If the County wants to consider opening some roads to ATVs, we are hopeful that the County will be more inclusive of the community’s interests and concerns, ensure proper enforcement of the rules, and comply with the law.

MVCC attorney on ATV case appointed to Washington State Court of Appeals

We know how to pick ‘em!  David Mann, the attorney hired by MVCC to litigate the  case against Okanogan County for allowing ATVs on all county roads without an adequate environmental analysis, has been appointed by Governor Inslee to fill a vacancy on the District 1 Court of Appeals.  District 1 includes King, Snohomish, Skagit, and Whatcom counties.  He will have to run for re-election when the term for the vacancy expires.

Soon-to-be-Judge Mann, along with co-counsel and board member Melanie Rowland, recently won the ATV case in the Spokane District of the Court of Appeals.  The court ruled that the county’s environmental analysis was superficial and inadequate.  Okanogan County has asked the appeals court to reconsider on procedural grounds.  If that request is denied, the court would then invalidate the county ATV ordinance.  The county could request that the state Supreme Court hear the case.

Mann will have to  withdraw as co-counsel on our case before he takes a seat on the court.  It will be very hard to replace him, but we’re already working on lining up another excellent environmental attorney for any further legal proceedings.

Congratulations,  David!  And many, many thanks for your stellar legal work on our behalf and on behalf of the natural environment of Okanogan County.

News Updates

County News

County asks state’s high court to hear ATV case

ATV Update: It’s Complicated

9/16/16

atv_timeline

Many people are confused about where it’s legal to ride ATVs. Even though MVCC won our recent Appeals Court case against Okanogan County, challenging the opening of county roads to ATV use, for now ATVs can still be operated on those roads. Why?

The wheels of justice grind slowly (see Timeline above). Here’s the rest of the story:

In 2014 MVCC and Conservation Northwest sued Okanogan County for adopting an ordinance that opened almost 600 miles of county roads to ATVs. One claim was that the ordinance is invalid because the environmental review was deficient under state law. Okanogan County Superior Court ruled against us.

We then appealed that decision to the state Court of Appeals, where we received a favorable decision.  The Appeals Court overturned the Superior Court’s decision, agreeing with our contention that the County conducted an inadequate review of likely environmental impacts of the ordinance, in violation of the State Environmental Policy Act.

The Court of Appeals decision did not immediately become effective, allowing time for the losing party to ask the Court to reconsider its decision. The County did ask for reconsideration, citing procedural and technical grounds, but the Court of Appeals declined to reconsider. Though proceedings in the Court of Appeals were complete, the decision still did not become effective, allowing time for the losing party to ask the Washington Supreme Court to review the decision.

On September 9, the County asked the Supreme Court for review. The Supreme Court has the discretion to accept or reject an appeal.  Until the Supreme Court decides whether or not to review the case, the ordinance remains in effect.

If the Supreme Court denies review, the case is complete and the ordinance will be voided. If the Supreme Court agrees to consider the County appeal, we must then await a final decision.  The court does not have any timetable for a decision.

In the meantime, ATVs can legally use county roads that are signed for ATV use.

However, ATVs are not allowed on streets in the town limits of Twisp and Winthrop.  (There may be an  exception for Highway 20 through those towns, but as this week’s Methow Valley News article points out, it’s not yet clear.).

We have asked that Winthrop post signs at entry points indicating that ATVs are not allowed.

In addition to town streets, ATVs are not allowed on the East County or East Chewuch roads where the speed limit was reduced to make those road segments eligible for ATV use; the County has not yet authorized ATV operation on those roads. Nor can ATVs use Forest Service roads that were opened to ATVs in 2015; the Forest Service closed those 350 miles of roads as a result of a lawsuit challenging the opening.  We await the Forest Service’s final Travel Management Plan to see whether the agency has again opened those roads.  We don’t know when that plan will be issued.

If you see ATVs on closed roads, or riding illegally off-road, try to get the license plate number.  If possible, take a picture.  Record the place, date, and time, then call 911 and report the matter to the Sheriff or town police.  Report ATVs illegally riding on Forest Service Roads to the District Ranger. Then let MVCC know what you saw.

Still clear as mud? If you have any questions about MVCC’s actions regarding ATV use on County or National Forest roads, please feel free to contact our office.

ATV issue rolls back onto streets of Winthrop

Court Strikes Down Ordinance Opening 597 Miles of County Roads to ATVs

6-16-16

The Washington Court of Appeals gave a big win to MVCC and Conservation Northwest in their lawsuit challenging Okanogan County’s 2014 opening of almost 600 miles of county roads to all-terrain vehicles (ATVs).  The Court said the County violated the State Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider the likely harm to land, water, animals, plants, and other aspects of Okanogan County’s environment before adopting the ordinance.  This means that all County roads opened to ATVs in June 2014 are no longer open to them.   Read our press release here and the court’s opinion here.

MVCC’s comment letter on new County ordinance to open more roads to ATVs.

To read our comment letter click here.

ATV Update

Oral argument before a three judge panel of the Washington State Court of Appeals in Spokane occurred on Dec. 10.  MVCC was represented by attorney David Mann and Sandy Mackie represented the County. Each side was allowed fifteen minutes to present, most of which was taken up by questions from the Court.  Both sides received pointed questioning, a sign that the judges had read the briefs and were engaged.  Now we must wait for their ruling, which could take 1 -2 months.

County proposes new ordinance opening more roads in the Methow Valley to ATVs

Comments are due by October 28 on a new ordinance that proposes to open several local roads to ATV access. This proposal comes on the heels of the county’s successful push to lower the speed limits on the same roads to 35mph, against the objection of residents and commuters.

Comments for this round are specific to the SEPA Checklist and Determination of Non-Significance (DNS). Comments must be submitted no later than October 28, 2015. Failure to comment by the due date shall be determined to deny a party standing to appeal the final determination. We encourage you to comment – public comments have altered the course of several county decisions recently!

Direct questions and comments to Charlene Schumacher, Senior Planner, Okanogan County Office of Planning & Development, 123 5th Ave N Ste. 130, Okanogan, WA 98840: (509) 422-7113 Email: cbeam@co.okanogan.wa.us

Comments largely ignored by County Commissioners

On May 2 2014, MVCC submitted extensive comments on the County’s inadequate environmental analysis on its newest proposal to open up almost 600 miles of county roads and road segments to ATVs–every road in the county with a speed limit of 35 mph or under.

Link to our comments on ATVs.

Appendix A to MVCC comments

Appendix B to MVCC comments

Text of the Okanogan Ordinance

Research illustrates impacts of motorized use on fish and wildlife habitat

Off-road vehicle scientific research reviews

Comments Needed: County Proposes Lower Speed Limits for ATV Access

Click here for more information.

ATV Speed Limit Hearing Update

Click here to read Phil Millam’s Update on the ATV Hearing.

MVCC takes ATV Ordinance to Court of Appeals

Feb. 10, 2015. Winthrop, WA. On February 10, MVCC and Conservation Northwest filed an appeal of an Okanogan Superior Court ruling on the 2014 county ordinance opening over 400 miles of county roads to All Terrain Vehicles.

Contact: Melanie Rowland, Methow Valley Citizens’ Council: 509 997 0888

Read our press release here

Court Issues memorandum Denying ATV Appeal

December 26, 2014. Judge Rawson finds against MVCC in our appeal of opening roads to ATVs. Further legal proceedings may follow.

Read Judge Rawson’s memorandum here.

ATV Hearing Date and Judge Change

On November 17, Superior Court Judge Henry Rawson heard an appeal by MVCC and Conservation Northwest about the county’s failure to do an adequate environmental review when the Okanogan County commissioners opened all roads with speed limits of 35 miles per hour (mph) and below to ATVs. Judge Rawson did not rule that day; he said he’d issue a written decision “shortly”. He was very attentive to the arguments of both counsel and asked good questions. We will follow up as soon as a decision is issued.

Forest Service News

Comments on Draft Travel Management Plan

7-11-16

The Methow Valley Citizens Council has commented on the Forest Service’s Draft Environmental Analysis for Motorized Travel Management Plan. The mission of MVCC is to raise a strong community voice for protection of the Methow Valley’s natural environment and rural character. The proposed action is a significant step with regard to protecting the natural environment of the entire Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, including the Methow Valley.

To read our comments click here.

To read our letter to Jason Kuiken, Deputy Forest Supervisor of Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, click here.

ATV Update: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

6-8-16

Today the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (OWNF) released for public comment its Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) on the Travel Management Plan. The announcement is on the OWNF website.
The Plan involves opening 350 miles of Forest Service roads to ATVs, including the same 91 miles previously opened on the Methow Ranger District.
The OWNF has planned a series of Open House events to answer questions about the Draft Environmental Assessment and the process for commenting.  Each open house will last 1.5 hours beginning at 5:00 p.m. and ending at 6:30 p.m.

  • Yakima Valley Museum in Yakima, WA on June 20
  • Mercer Island Community Center  Mercer Island, WA on June 21
  • Kittitas County Event Center in Ellensburg, WA on June 22
  • Apple Annies in Cashmere, WA on June 23
  • Okanogan PUD, in Okanogan, WA on June 24

Update 3-15-16: A coalition of conservation and recreation groups achieved a favorable settlement of their lawsuit to halt the Forest Service opening of 350 miles of roads across the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest to wheeled all-terrain vehicles (WATVs). The Forest Service opened the six new WATV routes on June 26, 2015, and the lawsuit was filed June 30, 2015 in federal court in Seattle. The settlement agreement was part of a stipulated order of dismissal entered by the court on March 8, 2016.

“The settlement agreement accomplishes the goals of the litigation while securing the recourse of judicial review should the Forest Service fail to comply with the settlement terms,” said Dave Bahr, attorney for the plaintiff coalition. Read the entire release here. Read MVCC’s letter to the Forest Service here.

ATV Update: Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest

6-8-16

Today the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest (OWNF) released for public comment its Draft Environmental Assessment (EA) on the Travel Management Plan. The announcement is on the OWNF website.
The Plan involves opening 350 miles of Forest Service roads to ATVs, including the same 91 miles previously opened on the Methow Ranger District.
The OWNF has planned a series of Open House events to answer questions about the Draft Environmental Assessment and the process for commenting.  Each open house will last 1.5 hours beginning at 5:00 p.m. and ending at 6:30 p.m.

  • Yakima Valley Museum in Yakima, WA on June 20
  • Mercer Island Community Center  Mercer Island, WA on June 21
  • Kittitas County Event Center in Ellensburg, WA on June 22
  • Apple Annies in Cashmere, WA on June 23
  • Okanogan PUD, in Okanogan, WA on June 24

ATV Op-Ed

This opinion editorial ran in the August 12th, 2015 edition of the Omak Chronicle.

Methow Valley News Article on recent FS road closures

Forest Service closes roads opened to ATVS in June

Jason Kuiken, Deputy Supervisor for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, just announced that the Forest is rescinding the June 2015 decision to open 350 miles of national forest roads to ATVs.  They will conduct a NEPA analysis on individual road management as part of the Travel Management Plan.  So, the roads are now closed to ATVs.  The public will have an opportunity to comment on the roads proposed for opening to ATVs as part of the Travel Management Plan.

Methow Valley News Article on Forest Service Decision

Decision by Judge Rawson on our SEPA case against the County

Here is our reply brief from our appeal of the ATV case.

MVCC’s letter to the Forest Service, regarding the opening of Forest Service roads to ATVs.

Conservation Groups Sue Commissioners Over Broad ATV Decision

(Twisp, WA) July 10, 2014. For the second time in a year, conservation groups have been forced to file a lawsuit challenging a decision by the Okanogan County Commissioners to open hundreds of miles to use by All-Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) as being in violation of state law.

Conservation Northwest and the Methow Valley Citizens’ Council support responsible riding, but the latest ATV Ordinance gives riders a blank check, and lacks even a basic analysis of the impacts to residents, infrastructure or resources that might be affected or harmed by allowing ATVs virtually everywhere.

Read the full July 11 Press Release

Read the Superior Court Complaint

FAQ – What is legal and not legal in Okanogan County?

Uncontrolled ATV Use is appealed

May 29, 2014. The Methow Valley Citizens’ Council and Conservation Northwest have appealed Okanogan County’s determination to open 600 miles of county roads.

Read the press release.

Editorial by Roger Harnack in Omak Chronicle, June 18, 2014, seeking to expand ATV use.

Guest Column by Melanie Rowland in Omak Chronicle, July 2, 2014, seeking to responsibly manage ATV routes.

Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Plans to Open Selected Roads to WATVs in June

There are proposals to open six routes on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest to wheeled all-terrain vehicles (WATVs) under a “pilot project”, beginning June 26. Click here to see the letter that 7 conservation organizations, including MVCC, recently sent to Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest Deputy Supervisor Jason Kuiken, regarding the OWNF’s proposal to open hundreds of miles of Forest roads to WATVs in June of this year.

One route has been proposed on the Methow Ranger District.

Click here for a map of the proposed routes on the Methow Ranger District. Note that this map does not show one route going from Black Canyon to the Ridge.

MVCC is wary of this effort for two main reasons. First, this is a cart-before-the-horse proposal. The Forest Service has not completed the long-term planning process to adopt a new Travel Management Plan (TMP) that would determine appropriate levels of road use.

Secondly, the Forest Service is depending entirely on volunteers to monitor roads and enforce the rules. With hundreds of new miles open to ATVs, there is no commitment of money or personnel to prevent environmental damage.

MVCC and six other conservation and recreation groups have written to the Forest Service to advise the agency that we believe their proposal is not in compliance with federal law.

Click here for more details and a schedule of proposed openings.

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