The Utah Snowmobile Association website is a good resource to view issues that are important to the snowmobiler with respect to their opportunity to ride on public lands. Although there are endless issues associated with this topic, USA will attempt to stay focused on the most critical issues so that our riders do not become overwhelmed and can get involved at the most opportune time through advance notification. Here are the important events on our radar screen:
The Forest Service announced in early February 2011 their proposed “Planning Rule” for the entire 193-million acre National Forest System. According to the Forest Service, a new planning rule will establish “a framework to guide the collaborative and science-based development, amendment and revision of land management plans that promote healthy, resilient, diverse and productive national forests and grasslands.” In plain English, the new planning rule will establish the process and parameters that determine how our national forests are managed, including what can and cannot take place, and how they will be monitored.
You can view all aspects of the proposed Planning Rule and the current status by going to http://fs.usda.gov/planningrule. The initial comment period expired in May 2011. USA provided comments expressing the concern that the proposed alternative does not give recreation a very good seat at the table. Emphasis is dominantly on assessing conditions, trends and stressors; plan content; restoration of ecosystem and watershed health and resilience; protection of key ecosystem elements, including water resources; providing for plant and animal diversity; protection of cultural and historic resources and specially designated areas (like wilderness); allowing for social and economic sustainability; establishing a two-tiered strategy for monitoring; and finally, creation of a pre-decisional administrative review process to provide an opportunity to resolve issues before final approval of a plan, plan amendment or plan revision. As of this posting, a final rule has not been released for the standard 90-day comment period and no official date has been stated for such release.
Once the new Planning Rule is finalized, it is likely the plan revision process will get back into full swing for the Manti-LaSal, Fishlake, Dixie and Ashley National Forests in Utah (Uinta and Wasatch-Cache finished their Plan Revision before the new planning rule process was undertaken). The is where all snowmobilers needs to get involved, because there is substantial riding opportunity in all four of these National Forests that needs to be protected.
USA has been awaiting the action that Winter Wildlands Alliance (“WWA) would take when the Forest Service denied their petition to initiate winter travel management similar to that required for other OHV’s under the 2005 Travel Management Rule. WWA contends that snowmobiles should not have been excluded from the 2005 Travel Management Rule.
In November 2011(through partners: Advocates for the West; Center for Biological Diversity; and Snowlands Network), WWA has initiated litigation in California and Idaho against the Forest Service for not managing and regulating snowmobiles as it does other off-road vehicles. They contend snowmobiles create substantial air pollution, water pollution, damage to vegetation, and disturbance to wildlife, create safety concerns, and disrupt the peace and solitude sought by non-motorized recreationists such as cross-country and backcountry skiers and snowshoers.
USA believes that although the two lawsuits are initiated in California and Idaho, WWA is strategically trying to get a precedent-setting ruling that would start the ball rolling on further restrictions to snowmobiling on public lands with the ultimate goal of seeking total elimination. It is in the best interest of all snowmobilers to stay informed on this issue and be prepared to get actively involved in any travel management process that may evolve from this litigation.