Land | Land use | Ecotrope

Off-road in the winter: Restrict snowmobiles?

Ecotrope | Nov. 5, 2010 9:14 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:44 p.m.

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OK, so we've got some rules on where off-highway vehicles can and can't go on national forests. What about snowmobiles?

OK, so we've got some rules on where off-highway vehicles can and can't go on national forests. What about snowmobiles?

The Winter Wildlands Alliance has petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service to restrict back-country snowmobiles as they do off-highway vehicles.

Around 90 other recreation and conservation groups have signed onto the petition, according to a story in New West. The petitioners want the agencies to amend the Forest Service’s 2005 Travel Management Rule to manage snowmobiles along with ATV and motorcycles in the national forests.

Apparently there are quite a few groups worried about the “snowmobile loophole” in the rules.

Oregon Wild is one of the groups that signed the petition, arguing that snowmobiles have their own impacts in the backcountry. Here’s what Oregon Wild’s Sean Stevens said:

“Our general take is that motorized use, whether in the summer or the winter, tends to be noisier, more dangerous, and more damaging to our wildlands than more traditional outdoor recreation pursuits. A planning process to figure out where it is and is not appropriate for snowmobiles to go on the National Forest will help both snowmobilers and traditional outdoor enthusiasts by reducing conflict between users and protecting important and sensitive places.”

Robbie Holman, president of the Montana Snowmobile Association countered with this:

“The Winter Wildlands group and all the other people that are involved with this petition are just anti-snowmobile. The only reason they’re doing this is so that, if it prevails, they can start in on limiting numbers, perhaps like they did in Yellowstone. Eventually the goal is to have no motorized recreation on national lands. … The thing is, there are differences between summertime and wintertime. Certainly with four-wheelers and motorcycles, designated routes make sense, since they’re touching the ground and disturbing the dirt. But where we ride, we’re probably 4 to 5 feet above the ground, so there’s no environmental reason to keep us on designated routes like they do in the summer; it’s just two different things.”

So, Oregon has been mired in debate for awhile over the use of off-highway vehicles in national forests. Users want a place to ride in the forest, and they don’t want to be too limited in the public recreation turf they’re allowed to access. Environmental groups say the vehicles have negative impacts on habitat and they should be restricted to designated trails. New travel management plans on OHV use are being implemented national forests, including Mount Hood and Deschutes. Should snowmobiles be included in those plans?

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