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Court Orders Montana National Forest to consider impacts on big game wildlife and habitat, including wolverine, moose, deer, and elk
Laurie Schmidt Montanans for Quiet Recreation (406) 682-7560
Seattle, WA – Wildlife will get a reprieve from motorized vehicles including snowmobiles on National Forests in Montana. A three judge appeals court panel sided with conservationists in their fight to secure stronger protections for grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, lynx, and a broad variety of “big game” from motorized recreational vehicles. At issue in this case is the designation of over 60% of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest for snowmobile use. WildEarth Guardians, Friends of The Bitterroot, and Montanans For Quiet Recreation brought the legal challenge.
“It’s getting harder and harder to find places to get away from the noise and pollution of the modern world, both for humans and wildlife,” said Bryan Bird, Wild Places Program Director at WildEarth Guardians. “The court gives sensitive wildlife a chance to be free of snowmobiles and other motorized vehicles.”
million-acres, the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest is the largest national
forest in the state of Montana. Tucked into the southwestern corner of the
state, the Forest is part of the “spine of the Continent” wild landscape. The
Forest is home to over 300 terrestrial land species, including grizzly bears,
wolves, wolverines, lynx, and a broad variety of “big game” species, such as
mule deer, white-tailed deer, black bear, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain
goat, and antelope. It is also nationally renowned as a recreation destination.
At issue is the designation of over two million acres, or 60%, of the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest for snowmobile use. There has been a sharp increase in snowmobile use since the 1980s, and advances in technology allow snowmobiles to reach altitudes and terrain not previously accessible. Snowmobiles affect wildlife in part because they stress animals and provoke a flight response during the winter season, when the animals are particularly vulnerable to depletion of their energy reserves. Because some species avoid all motorized vehicles, snowmobiles can effectively reduce the amount of available habitat. There is also evidence that snowmobiles can disturb reproduction cycles of wildlife species such as the wolverine. In addition to disturbing wildlife, snowmobiles can interfere with nonmotorized winter recreation activities because of the noise and pollution they generate.
This is the first circuit court victory on the Forest service’s minimization criteria, designed to actually minimize resource damage and conflicts with non-motorized recreation. In addition to the minimization criteria violation, the Ninth Circuit held that the agency violated the law by failing to provide in the environmental analysis adequate information on the impacts of snowmobiles on big game wildlife and habitat, including wolverine, moose, deer, and elk.