Due to its pioneering effort to bring peace between snowmobilers and other winter backcountry users, the Sawtooth National Forest will probably feel little impact from a new U.S. Forest Service rule requiring travel plans for snowmobile use.
Last week, almost 10 years after the Forest Service issued a travel-management rule that placed restrictions on wheeled-vehicle use but exempted snowmobiles, the agency released a court-ordered rule placing restrictions on over-snow vehicles.
In March 2013, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Winter Wildlands Alliance, the U.S. District Court of Idaho ordered the agency to revise its 2005 travel management rule to include snowmobiles. Judge Ronald E. Bush ruled that a snowmobile exemption in the plan was contrary to an executive order signed by President Richard Nixon in 1972 that required land-management agencies to designate areas of use and non-use by off-road vehicles, including over-snow vehicles.
The new rule was published Jan. 28 in the Federal Register.
National forests must now regulate
snowmobile use by completing winter travel management plans that will designate trails and areas open to use. Areas not designated as open to snowmobiles will be considered closed. Forests that already have snowmobile designations in place must also publish a snowmobile-use map.
The Boise-based Winter Wildlands Alliance, which advocates for human-powered backcountry travel, stated in a news release that while it is pleased with the new rule, it has several concerns. It objected to the fact that the rule allows for past management decisions to be incorporated into new travel plans without further opportunity for public involvement.
“While this makes sense for decisions that were done recently and with a full environmental review, we are concerned that this loophole will allow forests to sidestep the intent of travel management planning and scrape by with out-of-date decisions that avoid minimizing the impact of snowmobiles on wildlife, the environment and non-motorized recreation,” the organization stated.
It also stated that it was troubled by a revised definition allowing a designated “area” for snowmobile use to be nearly as large as an entire ranger district.
Snowmobile use is already regulated on the Sawtooth National Recreation Area and the Ketchum Ranger District. Following a Winter Use Agreement drafted by the Winter Recreation Coalition, a group of five snowmobilers and five skiers formed by the Blaine County Recreation District, the Forest Service in November 2000 adopted zones divvying up areas used by its conflicting winter users.
“We’ll have to look into the current forest plan and make sure that we’ve covered everything in the new rule,” Sawtooth National Forest spokeswoman Julie Thomas said. “We might have to add some language at some point, but we haven’t had the problems that they’ve had in some other areas that have initiated this.”
On the Ketchum district, snowmobiles are allowed in most of the Baker Creek area and in the Boulder foothills on the north side of state Highway 75. They are also allowed in the East Fork of the Big Wood River area south of Hyndman Creek. They are allowed in Hyndman Basin, to the north of the creek, after March 15.
A winter recreation map is available at the Ketchum Ranger District office on Sun Valley Road.