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Decades-old snowmobile maps ignore science, threaten imperiled wildlife, upset balanced winter recreation
Boise, ID — Three Intermountain national forests are the only in the nation to default to outdated decisions as the basis for current winter motorized travel maps showing where snowmobiles and other “over-snow” motorized vehicles are allowed. The Boise and Payette National Forests in Idaho and a portion of the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming claim that the maps they’ve published, based on data and decisions more than fifteen years old, are good enough to protect natural resources, imperiled wildlife, and a growing constituency of quiet winter recreationists.
Today, in order to ensure that wild places, wildlife, and quiet uses are protected on the forests—and that those forests, like all others across the system, comply with current, hard-fought, science-based regulations—WildEarth Guardians and Winter Wildlands Alliance, represented by Advocates for the West, challenged the decisions to publish these maps. “These forests cannot show how the outdated decisions they adopted on their maps comply with governing legal requirements to ‘minimize’ the impacts of snowmobile use on natural resources and other recreational uses, or how decades-old decisions reflect current circumstances and current science,” said Laurie Rule, Attorney at Advocates for the West.
Historically, the Forest Service has taken a more laissez faire approach to managing motorized use in winter than in summer. But, with increasing use and associated disruption to winter landscapes and wildlife, in 2015 the agency issued a new rule requiring forests to manage snowmobiles under a new paradigm, using similar guidelines to those governing ORV use in summer seasons. Every national forest with sufficient snow is required by law to go through the planning process established by the 2015 rule. But these three forests disregarded the new planning process.
“The Forest Service’s decision to rubber stamp decades-old snowmobile maps turns a blind eye to updates in best available science showing snowmobiles cause very real, harmful impacts to imperiled Canada lynx and wolverine, as well as changing snowfall patterns due to climate change,” said Marla Fox, Rewilding Attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “We do not seek to eliminate snowmobiling, just to ensure a fair planning process to determine where that use is appropriate. As forest users and conservationists, we understand balancing uses benefits all Americans in the long term. Defending our public lands from unbridled snowmobile use is even more crucial as we witness the Trump Administration ramping up its attacks on our public lands every day.”
“Oftentimes, particularly in the early stages of a new regulation, officials tasked with implementation make interpretations that are contrary to what the law intends. We believe that’s the case with these three forests,” said Hilary Eisen, Recreation Planning and Policy Manager at Winter Wildlands Alliance. “By asking the court for clarification we believe this case will head off bad precedent, re-iterate the importance of proper planning and bring consistency to over-snow vehicle management across public lands. Implemented correctly, the 2015 rule presents an important opportunity to enhance quality recreation opportunities for everybody, protect wildlife during the vulnerable winter season, and prevent avoidable damage to wild places.”