All across the United States, some of the best snowmobiling land available are in part of the U.S. National Forest Service lands. From the White Mountain National Forest in New Hampshire and Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania to Michigan’s Ottawa, Wisconsin’s Chequamegon and Minnesota’s Superior national forests; from the Black Hills National Forest in South Dakota to Idaho and Montana’s Bitterroot, Colorado’s Routt and Utah’s Uinta, to name just a few, snowmobilers have long enjoyed the great trails and, in some cases, great backcountry freedom that these public lands supply.
A ruling in Idaho last year put some of that freedom in jeopardy.
That ruling, which is currently under appeal by leading snowmobile and land-use groups, stated that mandated Travel Management rules for U.S. Forests that previously exempted snowmobiles now needed to apply to snowmobiles.
At first blush, today’s first words out of the Forest Service have been encouraging, according to Christian Jordain of the American Council of Snowmobile Associations (ACSA).
“It’s encouraging that [U.S. Forest Service Chief] Tom Tidwell believes in multiple use and understands that snowmobiles have a different use of the land than wheeled vehicles in the summer,” Jordain told Snow Goer in a phone interview today. “He understands that snowmobiles never really touch the resource, as they ride on the snow above the land.”
That said, attorneys for ACSA and the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) are reviewing the proposed rule released today so they can comment appropriately on the proposal, she said.
The press release from ACSA is below; stay tuned to snowgosite.wpengine.com for updates and suggestions on this issue.
ACSA PRESS RELEASE
U.S. Forest Service Seeks Comments on Proposed Snowmobile Rule
The U.S. Forest Service today published a proposed rule that will regulate when and where over-snow vehicles (snowmobiles) can be used on national forest lands.
“Over-the-snow access and recreation is an appropriate use of public lands, and we strive to offer a variety of opportunities for that,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “We believe it is essential that the public be engaged in decisions regarding travel management on the forest and grasslands, and we encourage the public to review the proposal and provide comments to help improve the final rule.”
The Travel Management Rule, established in 2005, designated a system of roads, trails and areas approved for recreational motor vehicles. Over-the-snow vehicles were exempt from the Travel Management Rule at the land manager’s discretion. In March 2013 an Idaho federal judge ruled in favor of a challenge by the Winter Wildlands Alliance requiring the Forest Service to conduct more analysis relating to designating roads, trails and areas that are open or closed to snowmobiling. The judge’s ruling applies to all Forests nationwide.
The American Council of Snowmobile Associations and the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, with substantial support from the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, appealed the decision against the Forest Service. This appeal is currently ongoing. Blue Ribbon Coalition is also listed as an intervener in the appeal.
The proposed rule was published on June 18, 2014 and allows a 45-day comment period. In accordance with a due date in the Judge’s ruling, the Forest Service plans to publish a final rule by September 9, 2014.
The proposed rule would allow the responsible official to establish a system of routes and areas where snowmobile use (over snow use) is prohibited except where allowed or a system of routes and areas where snowmobile use (over-snow-use) is allowed unless prohibited.
ACSA will be filing comments with the Forest Service on this significant proposed rule.
For additional information on today’s official release click here.
If you have any questions, please contact the ACSA office.