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Facing legal challenge, three Intermountain forests will review snowmobile maps
Boise, ID — In response to a lawsuit filed by WildEarth Guardians, Winter Wildlands Alliance, and The Wilderness Society, three Intermountain national forests withdrew winter motorized travel maps showing where snowmobiles and other “over-snow” motorized vehicles are allowed, while they consider implications for imperiled wildlife. This action does not change any current on-the-ground management.
The Boise and Payette National Forests in Idaho and a portion of the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming had claimed that maps published in 2016 and 2017, based on data and decisions more than fifteen years old, met legal requirements to protect natural resources, imperiled wildlife, and a growing constituency of quiet winter recreationists. To ensure wild places, wildlife, and quiet uses are protected on the forests, Winter Wildlands Alliance and WildEarth Guardians, represented by Advocates for the West, challenged the decisions to publish these maps and sent Notices of Intent under the Endangered Species Act outlining snowmobile impacts to Canada lynx and wolverine. The Wilderness Society joined the lawsuit challenging the Boise and Payette National Forests’ maps.
“These forests were the only three in the country to default to outdated decisions as the basis for current winter travel maps,” said Hilary Eisen, Policy Director at Winter Wildlands Alliance. “We sought to not only protect opportunities for human-powered recreation, unique wild places, and threatened wildlife on these forests, but also to establish a level playing field. These forests, like all others across the system, must comply with current, science-based regulations requiring thoughtful and meaningful winter travel planning.”
Due to increasing use and associated disruption to winter landscapes and wildlife, in 2015 the Forest Service issued a rule requiring national forests to manage over-snow vehicles under a new paradigm, using similar guidelines to those governing wheeled vehicle use in summer seasons. The three forests targeted in the lawsuit had disregarded the new planning process and published winter travel maps without the required planning or public process.
“Current science shows snowmobiles cutting deep into winter backcountry disrupts winter habitat and distresses imperiled Canada lynx and wolverine,” said Marla Fox, Rewilding Attorney at WildEarth Guardians. “Our Notices of Intent illustrated how each of the maps left the vast majority of wild landscapes open to snowmobiling on these forests. Despite attacks by the Trump Administration, this is an example of the Endangered Species Act at work to protect imperiled wildlife on our public lands.”
“Our goal was to head off bad precedent, re-iterate the importance of proper planning, and bring consistency to over-snow vehicle management across public lands,” said Alison Flint, Counsel and Planning Specialist at The Wilderness Society. “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. But not if forests short-circuit the process required by the rule.”
“The Forest Service’s decision to withdraw the maps is an important first step in resolving the lawsuit,” said Laurie Rule, senior attorney with Advocates for the West representing the conservation groups. “However, full resolution of the legal claims in this case will not occur without a commitment by the agency to conduct a transparent and up-to-date winter travel planning process for each forest.”
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