Unfortunately, it wasn’t an April Fools joke yesterday when news broke of possible future restrictions on snowmobilers on public lands.
According to the Associated Press story that was published on many websites, a federal judge – U.S. District Magistrate Judge Ronald Bush – ruled last Friday that the U.S. Forest Service had violated the law by not creating specific rules for snowmobile travel in the backcountry.
In doing so, the judge ruled that the Forest Service must create regulations designating areas of use and non-use for all off-road vehicles on national forest lands, the story reported, including snowmobiles.
The ruling sides with a group called the Winter Wildlands Alliance, which represents backcountry skiers and snow shoe enthusiasts (whatever that is!).
Previously, the Forest Service had gone through a similar process of restricting use for off-highway vehicles (OHVs) for spring, summer and fall use – meaning jeeps, ATVs, UTVs and related vehicles – as a part of its 2005 Travel Management Rule, but they left snowmobilers alone. We’re guessing Forest Service officials realized that (1) when the snow melts there is generally no trace that snowmobiles were in the area and (2) folks like snow shoe enthusiasts don’t get very deep into the backcountry – unless, of course, they are using a snowmobile to get there.
That didn’t stop Winter Wildlands Alliance from filing suit, and in this case, winning. The group’s leader, Mark Menlove, says he and his organization are not anti-snowmobiler. Yes the group has spent a lot of time and money lobbying against access for snowmobile enthusiasts, from backing Yellowstone restrictions to insisting on restricting more and more areas in national forest and other lands.
Sandra Mitchell of the Idaho State Snowmobile Association is quoted in the story saying he is prepared to take part in the process of drafting the new rules, which is the next step now after the judge’s ruling.