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Will the Forest Service's Final Winter Travel Management Rule Protect Wildlife?

Final Rule Regulating Winter Motorized Recreation Released Today

Additional Contact:

Sarah Peters, Wild Places Program Attorney,; 541-345-0299

Washington, DC: After years of pressure, the Forest Service today released its final rule regulating winter motorized recreation. “It’s way overdue,” said Sarah Peters, of WildEarth Guardians. “Rampant snowmobile use has been harming our threatened winter wildlife—lynx, wolverines and grizzlies—for decades, without constraint. Snowmobiles have also been wreaking havoc on those of us who enjoy being out in the quiet and solitude of a beautiful winter landscape. The noise and fumes are ridiculous!”

One of the biggest changes to the rule is that, once the rule is implemented, areas will now be closed to snowmobiles unless specifically designated open. In the past, the approach has been the opposite: generally, unless the Forest Service took specific measures to close an area to winter motorized recreation, it was considered open to any and all uses. This translated to 80 million acres of National Forests in the west being open to snowmobiles, and only 35 million acres being protected from snowmobile use—most of that in Wilderness, where no mechanized uses are allowed.

The rule still has its loopholes. One is that the areas designated for snowmobile use can be huge, hundreds of thousands of acres. Another is that old Forest Service decisions on winter recreation can get grand-fathered into the rule.

“We’ll be watching closely how the Forest Service moves forward with the rule,” said Greg Dyson, of WildEarth Guardians. “This rule is a fantastic opportunity to protect our forests and winter wildlife from unregulated snowmobile use. But there is no guarantee that will happen.”

It has long been found that snow-packed trails created by snowmobiles and other sources serve as travel routes for potential competitors and predators of lynx, especially coyotes.[i] Coyotes are disadvantaged in deep, soft snow due to their high foot-load, while lynx are better able to move across deep, soft snow. Snowmobiles disrupt the separation between the two by providing coyotes a packed path into habitat they would not usual frequent, interfering with lynx habitat.

In addition, most snowmobiles use two-stroke engines, which dump unburned fuel into the snow. When the snow melts, those toxins flush into nearby streams, rivers and lakes, harming fish and other aquatic species, while also degrading municipal drinking water supplies.


[i] Bider 1962, Ozoga and Harger 1966, Murray and Boutin 1991, Koehler and Aubry 1994, Murray et al. 1995, Buskirk et al. 2000a; Bunnell, Flinders, and Wolfe 2006.


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