Snowmobile industry would benefit from association’s assist
As part of a long-running legal battle between the Winter Wildlands Alliance and the U.S. Forest Service that could have massive nationwide implications for snowmobilers, the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) has asked a federal judge for permission to appeal rules regulating the use of snowmobiles in national forests.
Back in March, as reported by the American Council of Snowmobile Associations, U.S. Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush of the United States District Court of Idaho issued a decision in favor of the Winter Wildlands Alliance that invalidated the previous winter travel plan and directed the Forest Service to issue a new travel rule for snowmobiles — presumably further limiting access.
In response to the judge’s ruling, the Idaho State Snowmobile Association, American Council of Snowmobile Associations, Blue Ribbon Coalition and ISMA have banded together to fight the restriction, which could have national implications for snowmobile access on public lands.
“We are leading the appeal process to hopefully overturn the magistrate’s ruling,” said ISMA president Ed Klim. “The ruling could be particularly impactful since the Forest Service, like other Federal Agencies, is short on cash and the rewriting of the Travel Management Rules and a Travel Management Plan for every forest would be costly.”
Snowmobiles have been subject to a requirement for national forests across the country to implement travel management plans, and follow designated routes, since 2005.
The crux of the Winter Wildlands Alliance is a USFS exemption that has previously allowed national forests to decide if they required snowmobile plans on an individual basis.
Winter Wildlands Alliance is a nonprofit that’s “the first and only national organization of its kind for human-powered snow sport enthusiasts and winter wildland conservationists.” The group has been in existence since 2000, and has been a major force behind objection to snowmobiles within Yellowstone National Park — a flashpoint for the snowmobile industry and motorized recreation industry.
The judge has yet to rule on ISMA’s request. If this is like other USFS travel management battles in the past, it may get very heated and attract a lot of media attention both in the Idaho region and nationally in snowmobile states.
“Snowmobilers across the United States have interacted with their local Forest Rangers in the creation and drawing up of their local travel management plans, and it’s a terrible shame that the magistrate and the Winter Wildlands Wilderness Groups do not consider the hard work done over many years to be useful,” Klim said.
In a point-by-point response to the battle, ISMA has listed its specific objections to the Winter Wildlands Alliance position. First, as each unit of the National Forest Service must prepare its own Travel Management Plan (TMP), forests are effectively “closed until open,” meaning ORV use is not allowed until a new TMP is in place, which opens specific routes, trails and areas.
Since the 2005 Travel Management Plan has been in place, “oversnow vehicles” — snowmobiles — have been exempt as snowmobile trails melt at the end of the winter, meaning they haven’t needed to be part of the more rigorous TMP that vehicles like ATVs have.
Due to the closed-until-open nature of the rules, ISMA argues the Forest service’s inability to quickly redo the TMPs could result in the wholesale closure of forests to winter snowmobiling until they can complete revised TMPs.
Pro-snowmobiling groups argue that the Idaho ruling could set a dangerous legal precedent that could put both snowmobile access and ORV access under the existing TMPs at risk nationwide. Furthermore, the Idaho ruling could be used as a precedent for further legal attacks on motorized recreation in Forest Service lands by anti-ORV groups.
More information on the dispute is available at www.snowmobile.org.