Court order topples snowmobile management rules
April 5, 2013
A federal court ordered the U.S. Forest Service to change how it manages snowmobiles within 180 days.
In the ruling handed down last week, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush ordered the U.S. Forest Service to issue a new rule within 180 days that requires all national forests to manage over-snow-vehicles under the same criteria used for all other off-road vehicles.
The ruling resolves a lawsuit brought by Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance challenging the legality of the over-snow vehicle exemption in the 2005 Travel Management Rule. Advocates for the West represented Winter Wildlands Alliance in the lawsuit.
Snowmobile advocates said the decision derails years of effort to determine the Forest Service rule.
The parties to the case, including snowmobile advocates Idaho State Snowmobile Association, American Council of Snowmobile Associations, and BlueRibbon Coalition, are still interpreting the court's ruling.
"This is either a tectonic shift or much ado about nothing," said Idaho State Snowmobile Association Public Lands Director Sandra Mitchell. "Forest Service rules and maps have for decades regulated not only areas of 'use and non-use' but details to the gnat's eyelash regarding winter use of specific roads and trails for motorized and non-motorized users. If it does anything, this decision will create unnecessary controversy and further sap the planning budget of an agency already fearful of being raided in the name of fiscal reform."
Snowlands Network President Gail Ferrell said the ruling confirms her organization's position that the Forest Service needs to address the affects of motorized winter recreation.
"The popularity of backcountry skiing and snowshoeing is apparent to anyone traveling the Mt. Rose highway, or other roads in and around the Lake Tahoe basin, in winter," Ferrell said. "The preservation and promotion of opportunities to backcountry ski and snowshoe in the basin is extremely important to the economic health of communities in the basin."
"We call on the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, which is revising its land management plan, to address the snowmobile issue," said Snowlands Network Vice President for Advocacy Bob Rowen. "This does not mean a total prohibition of snowmobiles, but it means providing a fair balance of lands for non-motorized recreation in winter as well as in summer."
An appeal of the decision must be filed in 60 days.